Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have not quit a truce despite calling it "defunct," European ceasefire monitors said yesterday, as the government called for renewed peace talks.
Thorfinnur Omarsson, a spokesman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, said the Tigers assured truce officials they would not withdraw from the 2002 ceasefire -- which was brokered by Norwegian officials -- during a meeting in the rebel stronghold in Kilinochchi on Tuesday.
The truce ended two decades of civil war, but now only exists on paper.
More than 3,500 fighters and civilians have died in unsolved killings, mine blasts, suicide attacks, artillery exchanges, sea battles and air strikes this year alone, according to government figures.
Monitoring officials were told top rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran called the ceasefire defunct "mainly due to violations of the truce by the government, especially the closure of the A-9 highway," said Omarsson.
The A-9 highway -- closed by the military in August -- connects the northern Jaffna peninsula with the mainland.
The rebels have refused to continue negotiations until the government cedes in reopening the highway.
Prabhakaran also said on Monday that the rebels were recommencing their freedom struggle.
A Sri Lankan official said yesterday the government is ready for peace talks.
"We hope they [the rebels] return to the negotiating table as we believe this can be resolved through dialogue and negotiations," said Palitha Kohona, the chief of the Sri Lanka's Peace Secretariat, which is directly involved in the peace process.
Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer, an envoy of peace broker Erik Solheim, was scheduled to arrive in the Sri Lankan capital late yesterday, said Kohona.
He will meet with government officials and is likely to visit the rebel leadership in the north.
The rebels are fighting to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority.
They say the Tamil minority can only prosper away from the domination of the Sinhalese majority.
Previous peace talks that started after the truce have failed to resolve the issue.
The government says it is willing to grant autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority.
Rebels insist that the state make sweeping changes, but the government says the changes demaned would infringe on Sri Lanka's sovereignty.