- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka … Four persons were killed and 40 were wounded in bomb attacks on this ethnically divided island Thursday as the government here promised to make “every endeavor” to revive peace moves and a top Norwegian envoy played down hope of a breakthrough.

Government spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva said the government was “positive” that Erik Solheim, Norway’s international development minister, who is expected here next week, will be able to end the impasse in the Oslo-backed peace process.

“The government response to this visit is very positive,” Mr. de Silva said. “The government will make every endeavor within its means and power to break the present deadlock and resume peace talks as soon as possible.”

Mr. Solheim played down hopes that his visit to the island, where more than 60,000 people have been killed in three decades of fighting, would lead to a resumption of peace talks.

“It’s very important to play down the expectations,” Mr. Solheim told reporters in Oslo.

“What could hopefully be achieved through this visit is some kind of understanding between the parties on how they would stabilize the cease-fire and reduce the far-too-high number of cease-fire violations that we’re seeing at the moment.”

Three bomb attacks on Thursday shattered a brief calm in northern and eastern regions.

A powerful bicycle bomb directed at an army truck in the town of Batticaloa killed four persons and wounded 23, while a similar attack in the neighboring district of Trincomalee left 13 persons wounded, officials said.

They said four other persons were wounded in a third bomb attack in Batticaloa earlier Thursday.

At least 140 persons, including 82 security personnel, have been killed since December, despite an Oslo-brokered truce in place since February 2002.

Mr. de Silva said President Mahinda Rajapakse was meeting political leaders from the majority Sinhalese community to hammer out a common position before any political negotiations with Tiger rebels.

Mr. de Silva, who is also the health minister, told reporters the government expects diplomatic moves to clear the way for an ice-breaking meeting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government in power since April 2004.

“We hope the other party to the conflict will also be reasonable and cooperate to ensure that the peace process could start soon.”

The Tigers agreed to a federal arrangement in December 2002, but those talks remain inconclusive and have been on hold since April 2003.

The Norwegian-led truce monitors suspended work in Trincomalee on Tuesday, citing increasing violence. The move prompted the government to send more troops into the area to step up security.

On Thursday, the government extended by another month the state of emergency it declared five months ago over protests by minority Tamil lawmakers.

Parliament was in session for just five minutes and unanimously approved the tough laws that allow security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

“There is an unacceptable level of harassment of civilians in the northern and eastern regions,” Tamil legislator Sampanthan told reporters. He said the investigation into the slaying of Joseph Pararajasingham, a Tamil member of Parliament who was gunned down during a Christmas service in eastern Sri Lanka, was also not going well.

The state of emergency was imposed shortly after the Aug. 12 assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by a suspected Tamil Tiger sniper.

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