Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Tamil Tigers declare 2-day truce

GUERRILLA FIGHTING After an offensive that began on Friday, the rebel group said it would allow civilians to return to their homes to mark the Hindu and Buddhist New Year

AP , KAJUWATTE, SRI LANKA

Sivapradasha Malasuri, a cadre from the breakaway faction of the Tamil Tiger rebels, sits with her mother at her side as she recovers from injuries sustained from a land mine, at the General Hospital in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, on Saturday. The main Tamil Tiger rebel group claimed yesterday it had regained control of some areas where a renegade guerrilla faction was based and would allow civilians to return to their homes to celebrate the Buddhist and Hindu New Year.

PHOTO: AP

The main Tamil Tiger rebel group claimed control yesterday of an area where a renegade guerrilla faction was based, and declared a two-day truce to allow civilians to celebrate the Buddhist and Hindu New Year, a relief worker and Tamil Web site said.

Rebels from the main Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), based in Sri Lanka's north, launched an offensive on Friday to regain control over some 6,000 breakaway Tamil rebels in the east led by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, also known as Karuna.

Military officials have said the unconfirmed death toll from heavy fighting between the rival factions was 33, including civilians. At least 13 others were reportedly wounded.

"The Liberation Tigers took control of the areas held by the Karuna group on Saturday night," said TamilNet, a Web site that reports on the mainstream rebel group.

TamilNet said the LTTE was "consolidating strategic positions" in the region surrounding the Verugal River, some 240km northeast of the capital, Colombo.

"Troops under the LTTE are urging scattered remnants of the Karuna group in the district to surrender to them," TamilNet said.

J. Ruben of the Dutch relief organization ZOA Refugee Care said the main rebel group had announced a ceasefire for today and tomorrow so civilians could return to their homes to perform the rituals of the Buddhist and Hindu New Year, celebrated on the same days by the country's majority Sinhalese population, which is Buddhist, and minority Tamil Hindus.

Tens of thousands of residents have fled the area where fighters from the main Tamil guerrilla group and the renegade rebel faction have clashed.

Military officials have stressed that they want to uphold their two-year truce with the Tamil Tigers. The battles between the guerrilla factions have stayed within rebel areas, but the fighting was barely 5km away from a military post in Kajuwatte.

"We don't want to be dragged into the situation, but will be taking all necessary steps for the safety and security of the people in the government-controlled areas," said military spokesman Colonel Sumeda Perera.

The two rebel factions have been squared off since a split last month between Muralitharan and longtime LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran in a dispute over regional rivalries and political strategy.

The tropical nation off the southern tip of India has enjoyed two years of relative calm since a ceasefire was struck between the separatist Tamil rebels and the government in February 2002.

On Saturday, Muralitharan recalled most of his 6,000 fighters to his Thoppigala base where they set up new defenses. Thoppigala is a jungle area in eastern Sri Lanka whose main town of Batticaloa is 220km east of Colombo.

The Tamil Tigers have fought government troops for two decades in a bloody separatist conflict which has claimed more than 65,000 lives.

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