Sri Lanka’s ‘ceasefire’ monitors flee from shelling

Aug 17 (AFP) – Ceasefire monitors in eastern Sri Lanka were forced to flee after they were nearly hit by heavy shelling in clashes between Tamil Tiger rebels and security forces, an official said Thursday. The six-member team left its base in the eastern port town of Trincomalee which has been the scene of fierce clashes during a flare up of fighting between rebels and troops.

“We had to move our base from Trincomalee. The area where we were staying came under heavy fire, our accommodation was almost hit,” said Thorfinnur Omarsson, spokesman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

He said the shelling started in early evening Wednesday and continued for hours.

The Swedish-led 54-member mission was set up to monitor a February 2002 ceasefire but the SLMM said it exists “only on paper” amid fears of descent back to full civil war on the island.

Both the rebels and the government have blamed each other for the upsurge in fighting which has claimed more than 1,400 lives by official count and displaced 135,000 civilians since December.

Trincomalee is home to one of six district offices run by the SLMM. Omarsson said the monitors had moved some 50 kilometres away (31 miles) away to