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Sri Lanka's new Parliament meets

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October 19, 2000 


COLOMBO (AP) - Anti-aircraft guns and commandoes watched over the new Parliament as it gathered Wednesday, hours after government troops beat back a fierce Tamil rebel attack on a northern army camp.

The camp attack and two other skirmishes, also in the north, left nine rebels and five soldiers dead, the military said.

The opening of the Parliament and the attacks did not appear to be related. The camp attack by the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam rebels was, however, the first since the Oct. 10 elections that returned President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Peoples' Alliance to power.

The 225-member Parliament met under unprecedented circumstances, with only the prime minister named and the government saying the Cabinet would be sworn in on Thursday.

No reason was given for the delay in announcing the Cabinet. Possible reasons could include the advice of astrologers, who are consulted for such events in the predominantly Buddhist country, or squabbling among Kumaratunga's seven-party alliance for ministerial positions.

But the Parliament approved extension of national emergency.

Emergency rule has been in force for long periods during the 17-year civil war and must be renewed with a vote in Parliament every month. The emergency rule allows the armed forces to search homes and detain any person suspected of involvement with the Tamil Tiger rebels. There were 113 votes in favor and 19 against. The rest abstained.

In addition to the guns and anti-terrorist commandoes posted around the legislative complex, navy boats patrolled the surrounding moats and canals and nearby roads were blocked.

At dawn Wednesday, troops beat back the guerrilla attack and rescued nearly 40 trapped soldiers in a camp near Vavuniya, the last government-held town before the war zone in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, a military spokesman said. The area is 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Colombo.

Three soldiers and one rebel were killed in the camp attack, Brig. Sanath Karunaratne said.

The guerrillas retreated when a military patrol from a nearby camp joined the fighting. The rebels have battled since 1983 for a Tamil homeland in the north and east. Nearly 63,000 people have been killed in the war.

In two other clashes in the north, eight rebels and two soldiers were killed near Jaffna city on Wednesday, Karunaratne said.

The opening session of Parliament was delayed by 90 minutes, in an apparent effort to find an auspicious time.

For the second time in Sri Lanka's legislative history, the government and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) agreed unanimously on the speaker: Kumaratunga's brother, Anura Bandaranaike, who is a UNP member.

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