Several Tamils die in Lanka attack

Eight people have been shot dead at a Tamil Tiger safe house near Sri Lanka's capital in an attack blamed on the split in the senior ranks of the rebel leadership.

    The violence is complicating Sri Lanka's peace attempt

    The Tamilnet web site said those killed on Sunday

    were supporters of renegade Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

    (LTTE) commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, known as

    "Karuna", and included one of his deputies.

     

    "The killings are confirmed, but we can't say who is dead

    and who is responsible," a police official told Reuters.

     

    Tamilnet said the assailants were believed to be gunmen

    from the main faction of the LTTE. It said a Sri Lankan

    military intelligence official was also among the dead.

     

    The police official said the killings took place at a

    residence believed to be a Tamil rebel safe house in Kottawa,

    an outer suburb of Colombo.

     

    Residents said 

    the house - a plush double-storey building set

    in a rubber plantation and surrounded by a two metre (six feet)

    brick wall - had been rented about two weeks ago by a man

    believed to be an important key Karuna associate.

       

    On Sunday police and army investigators swarmed over the

    house looking for clues. In the driveway, police experts dusted

    a Japanese saloon car for fingerprints as a bomb squad team

    checked the premises for booby traps.

     

    Iron fist

     

    Karuna, one of the most senior Tamil commanders, split from

    the LTTE earlier this year, prompting a crisis in the group,

    which has been fighting for decades in a war that has claimed

    more than 64,000 lives.

     

    The LTTE is run with an iron first by its senior

    commanders, and analysts say scores will be settled for months

    to come as a result of Karuna's split.

       

    Although the LTTE has regained control of the eastern areas

    formerly commanded by Karuna, the group accuses the government

    of supporting him in order to drive a wedge through their

    ranks.

       

    A team of Norwegian negotiators, led by deputy foreign

    minister Vida Helgesen, arrived in the Sri Lankan capital on

    Sunday afternoon in the latest attempt to re-start the stalled

    peace process.

     

    The peace process faltered in April last year with

    government and Tigers divided over the agenda for resuming

    talks. The rebels want discussions based on their proposals for

    interim self-rule, while the government wants parallel talks on

    a final settlement.

     

    Crucial stage

     

    Before leaving Oslo, Helgesen told Reuters that certain

    elements in the conflict "were playing with fire", and that the

    process was at a crucial stage.

     

    "Sixteen months have passed without a high-level meeting

    between the parties and that is a very long time," he said.

     

    "We are not optimistic about getting them back to the

    negotiating table because there is so little confidence between

    them."

       

    Helgesen is due to travel to Kilinochchi in the rebel-held

    north on Monday to meet SP Thamilselvan, leader of the LTTE's

    political wing, and to meet President Chandrika Kumaratunga and

    the prime minister in Colombo before he leaves on Thursday.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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