Norwegian peace envoy arriving in Sri Lanka

A Norwegian peace envoy was to visit Sri Lanka on Tuesday amid efforts to encourage the Tamil Tiger rebels to attend peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in Geneva next week, a senior peace official said, as rising violence threatens the island's fragile truce. The Sri Lankan government, meanwhile, is ready for the talks and has sent a team of junior officials to Geneva to take care of logistics for the negotiations, said Kethesh Loganathan, deputy chief of the government's Peace Secretariat.

Loganathan's statement came after suspected rebels attacked a military post in Trincomalee in northeastern Sri Lanka late Monday, injuring one soldier, an officer at the Media Unit of the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. Norwegian Embassy spokesman Erik Ivo Nurnberg said peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer would arrive Tuesday but gave no other details.

A government official, however, said Hanssen-Bauer will meet with President Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo and is also expected to travel to the rebel-stronghold of Kilinochchi. The official cannot be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media. The peace envoy's visit comes amid efforts to encourage the rebels attend the April 24-25 Geneva talks aimed at bolstering the country's 2002 cease-fire amid an increase in attacks since December.

The rebels insist they must hold an internal meeting before they can attend the talks. They canceled a trip by sea to the meeting on Saturday because they felt threatened by the presence of four naval ships in the vicinity which the government said were there to ensure the rebels' safety. On Monday, the Sri Lankan government offered private helicopters to transport rebel commanders to the meeting, but the rebels are yet to respond.

Under the Norway-brokered truce that ended almost two decades of fighting, the government had been providing helicopters for top rebel officials traveling through government-held territory. The government has turned down several requests for air transport in the past, but started doing so with much more frequency after relations with the rebels became strained amid rising violence.

The squabble over the meeting is the latest dispute to strain relations between the government and the rebels, who began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the island's Sinhalese majority. At least 50 people have been killed and at least 25 wounded since April 10. The government has blamed the rebels for most of the violence while the rebels say government-backed militias are responsible for the attacks, reports the AP.


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