Hagrup Haukland, the chief of a group of truce monitors drawn from five Nordic countries, said in a statement on Thursday: “If this trend of violence is allowed to continue, war may not be far away.

 

“It is now imperative that the parties join hands to arrest the violence prevailing in the north and in the east.”

 

Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, a military spokesman, said that navy personnel engaged in road clearing in Mannar district, 220km north of the capital, Colombo, recovered two Claymore mines fixed together on a tree.

 

The army also discovered another two Claymores along a main road that links Mannar with Vavuniya, a main town in northern Sri Lanka, Samarasinghe said.

 

At least 23 navy sailors and soldiers have been killed in mine explosions since last Tuesday in Mannar and the northern city of Jaffna.

 

“If all these [mines] went off today, it would have been a major disaster,” Samarasinghe said. He said that he suspected Tamil Tiger rebels of placing the mines.

 

Autonomy

 

The Tigers have been blamed for attacks that have killed 45 government soldiers this month. The violence threatens a ceasefire brokered by Norway in 2002.

 

The ceasefire temporarily halted nearly 20 years of violence in Sri Lanka that cost 65,000 lives.

 

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels have fought the government since 1983, demanding a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils who allege discrimination by majority Sinhalese.

 

Peace talks broke down in April 2003 after six rounds when the Tigers withdrew, demanding wide autonomy for the Tamil-majority northeast region.