V.S. Sambandan

Violence and standoff over rebel sea passage cause uncertainty

COLOMBO: Escalated violence in Sri Lanka's northeast and a last-minute standoff between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government on rebel sea passage have raised doubts whether the postponed second round of direct talks will be held later this month.

Five soldiers, an LTTE cadre and a civilian were killed in different incidents in the north on Saturday. Reports from the east spoke of a confrontation between the LTTE and supporters of its former special commander, V. Muralitharan (`Col.' Karuna) in rebel-held Batticaloa. There is no confirmation of the numbers killed in this incident.

The five soldiers were killed in a claymore explosion aboard a bus in Vavuniya district. An improvised explosive device was triggered from a hand-held tractor, reports said. According to army sources, at least four soldiers were injured.

In Mannar district, an LTTE cadre and a civilian were killed in what the rebels termed "an attack by the Army's Deep Penetration Unit."

The LTTE called off travel by its men from the northern Mullaittivu shores to the Batticaloa coast in a civilian boat, saying the Navy "imposed two new conditions." The trip was to ferry its eastern commanders to an LTTE meeting in Kilinochchi to arrive at a stand on the April 24-25 Geneva talks.

According to the LTTE, it could not use its ferryboat from the coast to reach a civilian vessel and the Navy would consider the civilian vessel an LTTE boat.

The LTTE's political wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan, wrote to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) saying the Government's action was "aimed at worsening the situation.") The Government said the LTTE had "unilaterally" withdrawn from an agreement reached by the SLMM on sea transport. "There is serious doubt if the LTTE wants to go to Geneva," Palitha Kohona, head of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process Colombo's apex body for the peace process told a press conference here.