In spite of church leaders' hopes that peace would follow early December elections in this island nation torn by years of ethnic conflict, renewed violence has broken out between rebel Tamil forces and the government.

At least 16 people have died in an attack by Tamil Tiger rebels on a military base and at a police station, and through return strikes by the Sri Lankan military forces, the BBC reported.

Shortly before, Christian leaders had expressed optimism that Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, sworn in on December 9, would seek national consensus in solving the ethnic conflict.

In the run-up to the election, Wickramasinghe's victorious United National Party (UNP) had promised to hold peace talks with Tamil militants. After the December 5 election, the UNP joined the Tamil parties and the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress to create a majority coalition called the United National Front.

The defeat in the election of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance means that for the first time since 1994 the country has a president from one party and a prime minister from another.

The new prime minister delayed appointing a cabinet, holding a series of meetings with opposition parties in what was portrayed as an attempt to form a "government of national reconciliation."

Ebenezer Joseph, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), said of the election result: "This is a very positive development. We hope this will help end the conflict forever."

The NCCSL is a forum of major Protestant churches including Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Church of South India and the Salvation Army.

Sri Lanka has been plagued by an ethnic conflict which has claimed more than ...

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