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Lanka, LTTE exchange artillery fire after peace talks fail

Peace talks failed after Govt rejected LTTE's demand to reopen a highway, which connects the Tamil-majority north with the mainland.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 12:46 IST

Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lanka government troops exchanged artillery fire in the country's north on Monday, the Defence Ministry said, a day after peace talks to salvage the country's ceasefire failed to make any headway.

The rebels opened fire late on Sunday, wounding five soldiers, and the two sides exchanged artillery fire across their front lines in the north of the country on Monday, military spokesman Brig Prasad Samarasinghe said.

"They fired at our positions and we fired back," Samarasinghe said.

Rebel spokesman, Daya Master, accused the military of starting the firing on Sunday, and said that he was checking reports about Monday's skirmishes.

Peace talks in Switzerland between the Tamil Tiger rebels and the government failed on Sunday after the government rejected rebel demands to reopen a key highway, the A-9, which connects the Tamil-majority north with the mainland.

The latest artillery exchange centered around an entry point to the highway.

The Tigers, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also alleged during the weekend talks that the military was preparing for a major assault in the North -- an allegation the military denied on Monday.

"There is absolutely no truth in the claim," military spokesman Samarasinghe said.

"We are defending our positions with the current deployment," he said

The talks in Geneva between government and rebel negotiators were aimed at salvaging a 2002 ceasefire accord that has been all but destroyed by a major surge in violence this year.

They ended Sunday without two sides failing even to agree on a date for a new round of talks, said Erik Solheim, Norway's minister for international development, and the country's peace envoy to Sri Lanka.

The rebels accuse the government of blockading the A-9 highway to strangle the rebels' main supply route and impede aid agencies' access to the area, where thousands of people have been cut off by fierce fighting, leaving them without enough food or other essential supplies.

The government said during the weekend talks a sea delivery route would cheaper and safer, claiming the rebels themselves hamper deliveries by threatening and extorting those who use the road.

But the rebels rejected an offer to set up a sea route, saying it would not be suitable for aid agencies.

The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a self-ruled homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka's north and east, citing discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

The government says it can offer autonomy, but not a separate state.

The conflict cost the lives of more than 65,000 people before the ceasefire. At least 2,000 civilians and combatants have been killed this year alone.

First Published: Oct 30, 2006 12:46 IST