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Sri Lanka to inform Norway of move to scrap truce


Colombo : Scandinavian peace monitors prepared to leave Sri Lanka Thursday as the government in Colombo said it would formally notify Norway of its decision to pull out of a Norwegian-brokered peace deal with Tamil rebels.

Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa Thursday told journalists that the government decided to scrap the agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) because “it was non-functional and not practical” as a means of ending the country’s two-decade long ethnic conflict.

“The Prime Minister (Ratnasiri Wickramanayake) and the foreign ministry will be formally informing the Norwegian government about the government’s decision taken on Wednesday,” he said.

The prime minister proposed to to the cabinet to withdraw from the ceasefire agreement and the ministers approved it Wednesday night.

Under the agreement, a 14-day notice should be given by either of the parties to pull out from the ceasefire.

The accord was signed by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is currently the leader of opposition, and the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, on Feb 22, 2002. It was effective until rebels renewed attacks on security forces in Dec 2005.

Norway acted as a facilitator to Sri Lanka’s peace process.

The rebels renewed their attacks three weeks after incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected. The resumption of rebel attacks prompted government forces to do the same and since then more than 5,700 have been killed in clashes.

The government’s decision to formally pull out from the truce has been met with mixed reactions.

Norway’s Minister of International Development Erik Solheim, who was one of the key peace brokers, said he “regretted” the Sri Lankan government taking such a “serious” step.

“This comes on top of the increasingly frequent and brutal acts of violence perpetrated by both parties, and I am deeply concerned that the violence and hostilities will now escalate even further,” Solheim said in a statement.

He said the termination of the agreement will primarily affect the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), as its mandate is set out in the agreement and it may therefore be necessary to withdraw the mission.

“This would weaken efforts to protect the civilian population, which would be most regrettable,” Solheim said.

The Scandinavians have not been able to do their job during the past two years because of repeated violations by both sides.

Senior military officials and Prime Minister Wickramanayake have expressed confidence in their ability to defeat the rebels within this year.

There has been mixed public reactions about the decision to formally withdraw from the agreement. Some analysts have argued that since the agreement was not effective the government had taken the correct decision, while others were of the opinion that the formal pullout will lead to an escalation of violence.

Suspected Tamil rebels Wednesday set off a claymore mine targeting an army bus in the capital, killing two soldiers and three civilians, including two children. At least 28 others were injured.

Opposition Tamil Member of Parliament T. Maheshwaran was shot dead Tuesday inside a Hindu temple in the capital.

The opposition has blamed the government for failing to provide adequate security to the MP as his security was reduced recently despite his statement that his life was under threat.

The MP had implicated a pro-government Tamil political party for recent abductions and killings in the north and said he was planning to make a detailed statement in parliament Jan 8 about those responsible for such acts.

The funeral of the MP was due to take place later Thursday and some of the minority Tamils in the capital closed their shops as a mark of protest.

At the same time, a group of campaigners for peace was holding a protest against the killing.