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LTTE, Army agree to continue truce in east

By V.S. Sambandan

COLOMBO, APRIL 15. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V. Muralitharan (`Col.' Karuna), the new regional rebel leadership and the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) today agreed to restore relations in the east and continue to uphold the ceasefire agreement.

At a meeting, chaired by the head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Trond Furuhovde, the two sides agreed to meet regularly in future, according to reports from the east. The LTTE's newly-appointed Special Commander, T. Ramesh, and the SLA's GOC for the region, Vajira Wijegoonewardena, led the discussions, described by the two sides as held in a `cordial and pleasant atmosphere.'

Today's meeting gains significance as the SLMM had stopped its operations in eastern Sri Lanka in early March, after the rebel LTTE commander, `Col.' Karuna broke ranks with the Tigers and said he would function independently.

He had demanded a separate ceasefire agreement and requested the facilitators, Norway, to consider him as a separate entity.

While the facilitators maintained a distance from the LTTE's internal feud, the SLMM took the position that the ceasefire agreement was between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE's leader, V. Prabakaran, and pulled out from the areas controlled by Karuna.

Today's meeting comes immediately after Karuna disbanded his fighters and left for an undisclosed destination on April 13 — four days after fighting commenced.

`No SLA role'

As the whereabouts of Karuna remain unknown, the Defence Ministry today denied reports that the army had escorted him to safety.

Denying reports `appearing in the local media that the Sri Lanka army has provided escort' to Karuna, `to a destination in Colombo' after the clash `with the LTTE, Vanni faction', the Ministry said: "Karuna has not requested the Sri Lanka Army for refuge, nor have the security forces undertaken any such movement as speculated in the media."

According to reports from the east, Karuna `killed' the LTTE's intelligence operatives in the area, including its deputy head of intelligence in Batticaloa, Neelan, before leaving for an undisclosed destination. The body of Neelan, who, according to local media reports, was involved in the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was taken to Vanni for burial in the LTTE's Martyr's Cemetery, a report in the TamilNet website said. The LTTE also released the names of four other intelligence operatives reportedly killed by Karuna.

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