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Sri Lanka govt scraps cease-fire

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  • Government withdraws from internationally brokered cease-fire with Tamil Tigers
  • Truce had largely collapsed since resurgence of fighting in civil war two years ago
  • Bomb blast hits Sri Lankan army bus in Colombo's Slave Island district
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- The Sri Lankan government has officially withdrawn from an internationally brokered peace agreement with Tamil rebels -- a cease-fire that had existed in name only since the two sides resumed fighting two years ago.

The government said it would reconsider peace talks with the rebels when the group laid down its arms, Sri Lanka's media minister said at a news conference Thursday.

"We have not shut the doors for negotiations," Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told reporters.

Analysts say the government's decision to pull out of the truce will intensify fighting between the two sides, which have engaged in a brutal civil war since 1983.

The rebels, formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, want an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island-nation, located south of India. They cite decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

About 65,000 people died before the two sides reached a truce in 2002, brokered by Norway. But in recent years, they have virtually ignored the agreement.

Even before the announcement, Sri Lanka's armed forces commanders declared on New Year's Eve that they would crush the rebels in 2008.

Yapa said Thursday the cease-fire was a "non-functioning agreement" that the rebels violated many times.

Most recently, the government accused the rebels of placing a bomb inside a roadside hotel Wednesday morning.

The blast hit a Sri Lankan army bus, killing at least four people, including two soldiers and wounding 28 others, military and hospital officials said.

The attack came a day after a Tamil opposition lawmaker was killed when a gunman opened fire on him as he was leaving a Hindu temple in northeastern Colombo. T. Maheswaran was a member of the opposition United National Party.

The cease-fire agreement requires that each side give two weeks' notice if either plans on withdrawing.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and the country's foreign minister will meet with Norway's ambassador to convey the government's decision, Yapa said.

Norway expressed regret at the Sri Lankan government's announcement.

"This comes on top of the increasingly frequent and brutal acts of violence perpetrated by both parties, and I am deeply concerned that the violence and hostilities will now escalate even further," said Erik Solheim, Norway's minister of the environment and international development, in a statement posted on the country's Foreign Ministry Web site. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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