Sri Lanka mine blasts kill 3 government forces

Two mine blasts in northern Sri Lanka killed three government forces and injured a policeman Wednesday, after the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels ruled out direct talks with the president to prevent a return to full-scale civil war. The first anti-personnel mine exploded in the government-held town of Vavuniya on the frontier with rebel-held territory. The area's police chief, Gamini Silva, said two soldiers and a policemen were killed.

"The mine was detonated through a remote control device as government troops were returning to an army camp after checking and clearing roads in the area," Silva told The Associated Press by telephone. Vavuniya is 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of the capital, Colombo . Hours later, another anti-personnel mine blast wounded a policeman in the northern town of Jaffna , said a report on a pro-rebel Web site. Details were not immediately available.

The blasts came a day after the Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, rejected Buddhist and Catholic priests' pleas to hold direct talks with Sri Lanka 's president in a bid to avoid the return of all-out civil war. The rebels said they favor mediation by Norway , which brokered a 2002 cease-fire between the Tamil Tigers and government.

On Wednesday, Norwegian envoy Jon Hannsen-Bauer arrived Colombo and held talks with the government on an early resumption of peace talks with the Tigers, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters. Bauer will be joined by Erik Solheim, who negotiated Sri Lanka 's 2002 government-rebel cease-fire and is Norway 's international development minister, on Friday. The two are expected to meet Tiger leaders, hoping to persuade them to go back to the negotiating table.

On Tuesday, the priests told Thamilselvan that President Mahinda Rajapakse had expressed his desire to meet the reclusive rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to find a negotiated solution to the island country's protracted conflict. The government and rebels held peace talks in Geneva in February, but a second round slated for April was canceled after they blamed rising violence on each other.

Surging violence has killed nearly 300 people since April, raising fears that Sri Lanka is heading back to full-scale civil war. Meanwhile, pro-rebel Tamil lawmakers on Wednesday accused the government of failing to protect ethnic Tamil civilians and said the armed forces have been harassing and killing Tamils with impunity.

"The government has failed in its duty to give protection to the Tamil civilians," Rajavarothayam Sambanthen, a lawmaker for the Tamil National Alliance, which has 22 members in the 225-member parliament, said at a news conference. The military has behaved in a manner "totally hostile" to Tamil civilians, confident that "the arm of law will not reach them," Sambanthen said.

The government and military have both denied responsibility for recent unresolved civilian deaths. The Tigers have fought the government since 1983, demanding a separate homeland for the minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. More than 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 cease-fire accord halted 19 years of open warfare, reports the AP.

N.U.