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Violence ebbs in Sri Lanka but tensions persist

Violence ebbs in Sri Lanka but tensions still persist – UN agency

Violence in Sri Lanka has ebbed since the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last week agreed to hold new talks, but scores of people continue leaving the southern part of the country for India, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reported today.

While clashes in the northeast are reported to have fallen significantly amid generally improved security, UNHCR field offices in Sri Lanka report that “tensions remain high in many areas; that perceived harassment of civilians by security forces continues; and that some population movement persists,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva today.

Over the past two weeks, Tamils from Sri Lanka continued to leave for southern India, with 120 arriving even after the announcement that the parties will resume talks. Meanwhile, displaced persons are not returning to their homes.

“A 'wait and see' attitude seems to prevail among the newly displaced communities in Sri Lanka's northeast,” Mr. Redmond said.

In mid-February, the parties will hold their first direct talks since April, 2003. Welcoming that announcement earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged both sides to strictly uphold the ceasefire.

“To advance the peace process, it will be important to put an end to the escalating violence in the north and east,” he said through a spokesman. “The people of Sri Lanka deserve a new hope that peace could be in reach.”

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