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Peace Group is Leaving Sri Lanka

in The New York Times, January 5, 2007

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration formally notified Norway, the lead peace mediator, late on Thursday that it was giving a stipulated 14-day notice to end the truce.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Reuters) — Nordic cease-fire monitors began concluding their six-year mission to Sri Lanka on Friday after the government scrapped a truce with the Tamil Tigers amid a chorus of international concern.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration formally notified Norway, the lead peace mediator, late on Thursday that it was giving a stipulated 14-day notice to end the truce. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said Friday that the government would need to “redefine” Norway’s role in light of the end of the truce, but did not specify how.

The move means the gloves finally come off on Jan. 16, and analysts and diplomats expect an intensification of the fighting that resumed almost as soon as Mr. Rajapaksa took power in late 2005 as the truce effectively broke down on the ground.

The Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which kept a tally of violations of the truce agreement, was initially seen as a deterrent to human rights abuses by both sides, but it became increasingly ineffective as its access to areas of conflict was hampered. Its role ends with the cease-fire.

YouTube video of SLMM coming under fire

“We’re beginning to move towards” a pullout, a spokeswoman for the monitors said. “It’s not far, it’s only a few days. We of course have offices and personnel all over the place, so yes, we’re definitely moving towards that.”

The end of the truce dashes hopes of resurrecting peace talks any time soon. Analysts expected the death toll from the 25-year-long civil war, which now stands at 70,000, to continue to rise.

Fighting continued Friday, with the military saying that troops killed five rebels in the districts of Mannar and Polonnaruwa. On Thursday, both the military and the Tigers said they killed around a dozen people.

The government decided to cancel the cease-fire after a series of deadly bombings for which the Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, were blamed. The Tigers are fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka. It said the rebels, widely outlawed as a terrorist group, had simply used the pact to regroup and rearm.

A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission vehicle in the village Mullaitivu, on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Picture taken by myself. [Wikipedia Commons]
Two civilian monitors and their Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission vehicle in the village Mullaitivu, on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka.

Hard-line majority-Sinhalese nationalists on Friday called on the government to reimpose a ban on the Tigers, which Mr. Rajapaksa warned last month he might do. The government says the door to talks remains open if conditions change or the Tigers lay down their arms, which the guerrillas have vowed not to do. The Tigers said Thursday that they were reserving judgment until Norway officially notified them of the end of the truce.

The government’s move drew widespread international criticism. In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said the United States was troubled by a decision that would “make it more difficult to achieve a lasting, peaceful solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict.”

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