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Sri Lanka says Norway out of peace talks after attack

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said on Monday Norway could no longer serve as a mediator between it and the Tamil Tigers, a day after pro-rebel demonstrators trashed the Sri Lankan embassy in the Norwegian capital.

Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Sri Lanka's ambassador in Norway, looks at damage in the Sri Lanka embassy in Oslo April 12, 2009. REUTERS/Stian Lysberg Solum/Scanpix

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador on Monday, to make a formal protest after the demonstration turned violent and the demonstrators -- who videotaped themselves and posted the attack on the Internet -- escaped arrest.

“In these circumstances, the government of Sri Lanka perceives that it is no longer feasible for Norway to act as facilitator in the peace process,” a statement from the foreign ministry said.

That means Norway can no longer effectively play a role as one of four mediators, alongside the United States, Britain and Japan, in Sri Lanka’s all-but-dead peace talks.

The ministry said Norway had shown “sheer neglect” of its obligations by failing to protect the embassy despite repeated requests for better security since protests have been on the rise in numerous world cities where there are large Tamil populations.

The Norwegian ambassador in Sri Lanka, Tore Hattrem, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters and said the foreign ministry in Oslo was expected to make a statement.

Sri Lanka’s military has encircled the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a 17 square km (7 sq mile) strip of northeastern coast along with tens of thousands of civilians, and is aiming to crush the separatists and end a 25-year war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday ordered the military to pause fighting and act only defensively during the two-day Sinhala and Tamil New Year period on Monday and Tuesday, and urged the Tigers to let people out.

HUMAN SHIELDS

The United Nations says the Tigers are holding those people as human shields, and has urged the government to keep its promise not to fire artillery into the densely packed area to avoid killing civilians. Sri Lanka denies firing at civilians.

The nations leading Sri Lanka’s peace process welcomed the two-day halt to military operations and said they wanted the civilians released and fighting to end without more bloodshed, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The group -- including the United States, European Union, Japan and Norway -- repeated their call for the Tigers to allow civilians to leave and called on both sides to facilitate the delivery of food and medicine and the evacuation of the sick and wounded.

The State Department said officials from the group spoke by telephone on Monday, their second conference call in a week.

Norway brokered a 2002 ceasefire between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, but the truce was shattered by renewed violence in 2006. Colombo pulled out in January 2008, with Rajapaksa vowing to destroy the LTTE.

In diplomatic circles, Norway’s role is valued because it has the best direct links to the Tiger leadership, and is usually the channel through which the mediators and international community make their positions or requests known.

That, however, has infuriated Colombo, which says Norway has no business contacting leaders of a group that the European Union lists as a terrorist organisation, along with the United States, Canada and India.

Colombo expressed anger last month after Norway’s ambassador brokered a meeting between U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes and S. Pathmanathan, who is the LTTE’s chief weapons procurer and now its diplomatic pointman despite being wanted by Interpol.

Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington

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