The head of a European truce monitoring team began discussions with top Tamil Tiger leaders in northern rebel-held territory on Thursday. Sri Lankan Hagrup Haukland met with S.P. Thamilselvan, chief of the separatist rebels' political wing, in Kilinochchi, 275 kilometers (170 miles) north of the capital, Colombo. The issues being discussed at the meeting were not immediately known, although were likely to include the Norwegian-brokered cease-fire signed by the government and rebels in 2002, which ended 19 years of ethnic fighting.
Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran warned on Sunday that he would intensify the Tigers' struggle for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east next year if the minority Tamils' grievances are not addressed. Rajapakse has said his government is committed to ending all violence in the country and resuming the stalled peace process.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began fighting in 1983 to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination. About 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the 2002 cease-fire halted major offensives between the two sides.
However, the cease-fire has come under increasing strain in recent months because of an upsurge in violence resulting in the deaths of dozens of soldiers, rebels and civilians. The military and the rebels both deny they are responsible for the turmoil, reports the AP. I.L.
Russian small missile ships - the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Great Ustyug - set off for a mission to the Mediterranean Sea