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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Fears of violence in Sri Lanka
An armed soldier stands guard in Colombo, Sri Lanka,
Vigilance required as election looms
By Alastair Lawson in Colombo

Senior diplomatic sources in Sri Lanka have warned of an escalation in military and political violence as the country approaches general elections in October.

The diplomats have been backed up by the country's influential Buddhist clergy, who have warned of a major "bloodbath" ahead of the polls.

The diplomats say that in between now and the vote there is a strong probability that the Tamil Tigers will restart heavy fighting against government forces in the north and east.

The election campaign itself could result in bloodshed, they say.

Already one person has been killed in election violence and there are still more than 45 days to go until the vote.

Diplomats say that the army general in the northern Jaffna peninsula, Major-General Anton Wijendra, was correct in his warning earlier this week that the Tamil Tigers may launch a major offensive to try and consolidate gains made in the peninsula in May and June.

Stark warning

General Wijendra said that the rebels' offensive may begin within the next few weeks and that his men were building new bunkers and tightening up security.

He said the Tamil population in parts of Jaffna town had been evacuated in areas where fighting is expected.

The general said that although the rebels had in the past proved adept at sudden counter-offensives, his men now had enough fire power to repel them.

But diplomats say that the army's effectiveness could well be undermined by controversial changes among its senior leadership.

They say the appointment of a new overall army commander, Major General Lionel Ballagalle, has caused resentment among some opposition parties.

General Ballagalle was brought out of retirement to take on the job ahead of another General, Janaka Perera, who they say may have been passed over because of his connections to the opposition United National Party.

General Perera was widely tipped for the army commander's job, especially as he was widely credited for stalling the rebels' offensive in Jaffna earlier this year.

Diplomats say the level of animosity between the major parties taking part is even greater than in December's presidential elections, which were also marred by allegations of poll-rigging and violence.

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See also:

10 Aug 00 | South Asia
Veteran Sri Lankan PM resigns
08 Aug 00 | South Asia
Setback for Sri Lanka peace hopes
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