Sweden aims to save Sri Lanka ceasefire

Sweden launched a fresh effort on Wednesday to salvage Sri Lanka's faltering ceasefire ahead of a Tamil rebel deadline for European Union peace monitors to quit by September 1st, officials said.

Swedish envoy Andres Oljelund was meeting Sri Lankan officials and was set to have discussions with Tamil Tiger rebels on Friday, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

“The Swedish envoy is here to have talks with both sides following the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) demand for ceasefire monitors from EU member states to leave by September 1,” Rambukwella said.

But as talks began, a powerful mine exploded killing two people and wounding 15 others aboard a bus in northern Sri Lanka, military officials said.

Ten soldiers, two policemen and three civilians were wounded in the blast on the Jaffna peninsula.

Sri Lankan police also arrested a suspected Tamil suicide bomber and three would-be accomplices in President Mahinda Rajapakse’s home constituency, the defence ministry said.

The Swedish-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) says a 2002 truce between the Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka exists only on paper following a surge in violence since December.

Attempts to push both parties back to face-to-face talks have failed.

Tensions rose again in May when the European Union outlawed the Tamil Tigers, which led the rebels to demand that monitors from Denmark, Finland and Sweden quit by September 1st.

The Tiger demand would mean the departure of 37 of the 57-member SLMM at a time when the monitors have asked for a 25 percent increase in their numbers to monitor the collapsing ceasefire effectively.

Rambukwella said the government was against the withdrawal of monitors unless there was a fresh agreement on the composition of the SLMM.

“We are against any unilateral action to send the EU monitors out and we stand by it,” Rambukwella said.

More than 850 people have been killed since December despite the 2002 truce brokered by Norway.

Talks held among the five Nordic nations providing staff for the SLMM last month ended without a breakthrough.

Some 60,000 people have been killed since the Tamil separatist conflict began in 1972.