Peace envoy to visit Sri Lanka

A Norwegian peace envoy is to visit Sri Lanka amid efforts to encourage the Tamil Tiger rebels to attend peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in Geneva next week.

    President Rajapakse is expected to meet the Norwegian envoy

    The development comes as rising violence threatens the island's truce.

    Kethesh Loganathan, deputy chief of the government's Peace Secretariat, said on Tuesday that the Sri Lankan government was ready for the talks and had sent a team of junior officials to Geneva to take care of logistics for the negotiations.

    Loganathan's statement came after suspected rebels attacked a military post in Trincomalee in northeastern Sri Lanka late on Monday, wounding one soldier, an officer at the media unit of the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

    Erik Ivo Nurnberg, the Norwegian embassy spokesman, said peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer would arrive on Tuesday but gave no other details.

    A government official said Hanssen-Bauer would meet Mahinda Rajapakse, the president, in Colombo and was expected to travel to the rebel-stronghold of Kilinochchi.

    The official cannot be identified because he is not authorised to talk to the media.

    Attacks increase

    The peace envoy's visit comes amid efforts to encourage the rebels to attend the April 24-25 Geneva talks intended to support the country's 2002 cease-fire amid an increase in attacks since December.

    The rebels insist they must hold an internal meeting before they can attend the talks.

    They cancelled a trip by sea to the meeting on Saturday, fearing a threat because of the presence of four naval ships in the vicinity - which the government said were there to ensure the rebels' safety.

    Violence has escalated in the
    northeast since December

    On Monday, the government offered private helicopters to transport rebel commanders to the meeting, but the rebels are yet to respond.

    Under the Norway-negotiated truce that ended almost two decades of fighting, the government had been providing helicopters for top rebel officials travelling through government-held territory.

    The government has refused several requests for air transport in the past, but started doing so with more frequency after relations with the rebels became strained amid rising violence.

    The squabble over the meeting is the latest dispute to strain relations between the government and the rebels, who began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils, alleging discrimination by the island's Sinhalese majority.

    SOURCE: Unspecified


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