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Rising Violence in Sri Lanka Worries Cease-fire Monitors

In Sri Lanka, Norwegian peace process monitors have expressed concern that rising violence in the northeast of the country could irreparably damage a 2002 cease-fire. A series of recent attacks blamed on Tamil Tiger separatist rebels has killed nine soldiers.

Seven soldiers died Sunday in a land mine blast in the northern Jaffna peninsula. It was the worst attack against the military since a truce with separatists went into effect in 2002.

Sri Lankan officials also announced that two more soldiers had died in other recent violence.

A military spokesman accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the LTTE, of carrying out the attacks to provoke the army and create a volatile situation.

The Norwegian monitoring mission overseeing the Sri Lankan truce has expressed concern the renewed violence could escalate out of control.

Spokeswoman for the mission, Helen Olafsdottir, says the cease-fire monitors are focusing on restoring calm.

"Just to have ten attacks on the army in one day could be very, very dangerous," she said. "We don't think that it is going to lead now to the cease-fire not holding, but one has to ask oneself how many people have to die before we call it not a cease-fire agreement. Meanwhile we are on the ground, we are trying to contact all the community leaders, army, LTTE and try and get the situation under control."

The Sri Lankan government said the violence showed the rebels were not sincere about reaching a political settlement. The Tamil Tigers have not commented on the attacks.

The latest violence comes a week after Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran threatened to step up the struggle for a Tamil homeland if a political settlement was not reached. He said the minority Tamil community was frustrated with lack of progress in the peace process, which has been deadlocked for two and a half years.

Kethesh Loganathan at Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives says the latest attacks could be a signal the warning should be taken seriously.

"In context of the LTTE's obvious impatience with certain things that are happening or not happening, it appears that they are now upping the antenna and in a way possibly testing the waters," said Kethesh Loganathan.

The country's recently elected President Mahinda Rajapakse has taken a hard-line approach to the rebels, pledging his commitment to resuming peace talks, but rejecting the rebels' core demand for autonomy. Since his victory last month, political observers say the future of the truce is uncertain.

The cease-fire halted the fighting that began in 1983 for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the country and killed more than 60,000 people.