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Norwegian peace envoy begins talks with Tigers

Hanssen-Bauer has already met government officials and discussed ways to restart stalled peace talks between Lanka and the LTTE.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 13:07 IST

A Norwegian peace envoy on Friday began talks with leaders of the Tamil Tiger rebels to discuss ways to resuscitate the island's moribund peace process.

Jon Hanssen-Bauer, who arrived in Sri Lanka last week, has already met with government officials and discussed ways to restart stalled peace talks between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Rebel spokesman Daya Master said Hanssen-Bauer arrived in the rebels' northern stronghold of Kilinochchi on Friday.

"He is now having discussion with our political wing chief, Suppiah Tamilselvan," Master told the agency by telephone from Kilinochchi, without giving further details.

Hanssen-Bauer decided to delay his visit to Kilinochchi for four days after the Sri Lankan government asked him to stay in Colombo until a Cabinet meeting.

At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday the government decided to invoke a tough terrorism law that empowers state security forces to detain anyone without a warrant for six months, raid any home and even demolish properties considered a threat to national security.

The Tiger rebels have been fighting for more than 20 years for a separate homeland for the island nation's 3.1 million-strong ethnic Tamil minority, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

The government says it is willing to give autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority, but the rebels want sweeping changes that the government says will infringe on the country's sovereignty.

A sharp spike in violence this year has killed at least 3,500 fighters and civilians, leaving a 2002 cease-fire in tatters and the country in an undeclared civil war.

In the latest violence, three artillery shells the military said were fired by the Tamil Tigers hit a school and other civilian areas in northeast Sri Lanka on Thursday, killing four people, including a teacher, and wounding 10 students, officials said.

But the rebels denied having anything to do with the attack in government-held Kallaru -- on the border of Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts in the restive northeast.

Most of the school's 365 students escaped unharmed as they were playing outside at the time the three shells fell, the agency learned from a teacher who was standing outside the roofless and bombed-out buildings of the school.

First Published: Dec 08, 2006 13:07 IST