NATIONAL

Sri Lankan soldier killed in crossfire

COLOMBO July 26. The first Sri Lankan Army casualty during the ceasefire was reported from the northern Jaffna peninsula on Thursday by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, comprising Nordic monitors, when a soldier was shot dead by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Based on ground reports, confirmed by the Army and the Tigers, the SLMM said that the soldier "tragically lost his life'' after he ventured into the zone of separation near the Muhamalai checkpoint "for unknown personal reasons and opened fire on four LTTE cadres.''

Reconstructing the possible manner in which the incident occurred, the statement said that the soldier "went missing from his comrades at the checkpoint just after noon today.'' And that the reasons for his crossing the zone of separation "remain totally unknown'' to both the Sri Lankan Army and the Tigers. "Between 12.00 p.m. and 1.00 p.m. the soldier came across four LTTE cadres and opened fire with his personal weapon, slightly wounding two of the cadres. The cadres returned fire in self defence with the tragic result of the Sri Lanka Army soldier losing his life.''

It is unclear if the incident took place in no-man's land or in the rebel-held territory. "It could be a grey area,'' the Army sources said. The SLMM and the Army are making further inquiries. The SLMM chief, Trond Furuhovde, said the "tragedy underscores the need of the parties to work hard to keep the peace process on track.''

Thursday's shootout, seen along with reports of abduction of security personnel in the island nation, has come as a challenge to the ceasefire. Asked if the killing would hamper the fragile truce that is in place since February, a senior military officer said that while the fallout of such incidents could be managed, the reported abduction of soldiers and those working with the security forces in the east could become a major cause for concern. "We have told the monitors about reports of violations in the east and are awaiting their reply.''

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