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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 10:42 GMT
Sri Lanka rebels in sea suicide
Sri Lankan soldier and civilians
Pace talks seek to end nearly 20 years of violence
Three Tamil Tiger rebels have blown themselves up after Scandinavian truce monitors boarded their heavily armed boat, hours before peace talks resumed in Germany.

The three members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) committed suicide on their trawler off the northern coast of Jaffna as they tried to smuggle arms on the island.

Now we'll have to see how such incidents can be avoided

Sri Lankan Government envoy Milinda Moragoda
"They have blown up the boat. They have gone with the blast," said Teitur Torkelsson, of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.

Despite the incident, talks between the rebels and the Sri Lankan Government are under way in Berlin, with human rights issues likely to top the agenda.

Monitors unharmed

Mediators there said the boat incident was caused by an "apparent communication failure" between the three rebels on the boat and Tamil Tiger commanders.

Sri Lankan Government envoy Milinda Moragoda said Friday's fifth round of talks would discuss the incident.

"Now we'll have to see how such incidents can be avoided," he said.

The peace monitors who had boarded the boat are reported to be unharmed, having disembarked before the explosion.

Earlier, the truce monitors said the discovery of an anti-aircraft gun, grenades and ammunition on board the ship was a "clear violation" of the truce signed last February.

Correspondents say the initial euphoria over Sri Lanka's peace process has ended and negotiators now have to steer their way through emotive human rights issues, like the demobilisation of rebel child soldiers.

Scepticism

Diplomats say the two sides will also lay the groundwork for a major donors conference in Tokyo in June, at which Sri Lanka hopes to secure hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of reconstruction aid.

Tamil Tiger soldier
A ceasefire has been in force for a year

Officials also expect this round of talks to produce a commitment from the Tigers to return underage recruits to their families.

But many in Sri Lanka are sceptical about such commitments, in the light of continuing reports of child recruitment by the rebels in the east of the island.

This time, a top international human rights activist will be present at the talks as an adviser to the delegates.

But, with both sides having perpetrated atrocities during this 20-year conflict, there has been a reluctance so far to look back at past wrongdoings for fear they could cause acrimony and upset the peace process.

Instead, the emphasis has been on securing human rights in the future.

Improved lives?

With the growing threat of war in Iraq, the delegates meeting in Berlin will be focusing their attention on how best to attract donor funds to rebuild the north of the country, much of which lies in ruins.

There is a danger that what little international attention there is on Sri Lanka will be diverted elsewhere, together with promises of help.

Already, people living in the conflict areas are wondering when their lives will improve.

A year after the ceasefire little has been done.

Implementing what has been agreed at the negotiating table is proving more difficult than both sides thought and the delay in carrying out much promised development work is causing discontent.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Matt Prodger reports
"It's a fragile ceasefire"

Peace efforts

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