Narrow strip of land is Sri Lanka’s flashpoint

MUHAMALAI, Sri Lanka, May 23, 2006 (AFP) – A narrow strip of land in Sri Lanka’s northern peninsula of Jaffna is a flashpoint that could ignite a new war in the country, according to senior military commanders. “Tension is very high, very high,” the officer told AFP on Monday. “Anytime, this can accelerate.”

In the past week alone, Sri Lankan forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrillas have twice exchanged mortar bombs and artillery fire near the de facto front line at Muhamalai, east of Jaffna town.

Bombings, mine attacks, naval engagements and other violence has escalated around this arid peninsula as well as elsewhere in the country since December.

However, those incidents can occur without pushing the country to full-scale war, said the military officer who declined to be named.

That is not true on the Jaffna peninsula, he said.

The area surrounding Muhamalai is “the most probable place” where a new war could break out because it is the narrowest part of the peninsula at the gateway to government-held Jaffna.

It is also home to the highest concentration of government troops who are estimated at 30,000 to 40,000.

“We must defuse this situation,” the officer warne