Wed, Feb 25, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lanka rejects top Tamil rebel’s call for ceasefire

READY TO TALK The Sri Lankan foreign secretary dismissed a letter that the Tamil Tigers’ political chief had sent to the UN, Britain, Japan, Norway and the US

AP , COLOMBO

Sri Lanka’s government rejected a call by Tamil rebels for a ceasefire, saying the militants were trying to “save their miserable skins” in the face of imminent defeat and must surrender unconditionally.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have lost most of their strongholds to government forces and are trapped on a sliver of land in the northeast along with tens of thousands of civilians. The government says it will soon take the remaining rebel territory.

“We are ready to discuss, cooperate, and work together in all their efforts to bring an immediate cease-fire and work towards a political settlement,” the Tamil Tigers’ political chief Balasingham Nadesan wrote in a letter on Monday to the UN, which was also sent to Britain, Japan, Norway and the US.

But Nadesan rejected international calls for the rebels to lay down their arms, saying the weapons “are the protective shield of the Tamil people and their tool for political liberation.”

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said his government will only accept an unconditional surrender.

“Instead of surrendering as the entire international community and the Sri Lankan government has called them to do, [the rebels] are calling the very people who have asked them to surrender, to save their miserable skins,” Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said on Monday in response to the rebel letter.

The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 2002 that many had hoped would be the start of a peace process to reach a political compromise and end the civil war that has plagued this country since 1983 and killed more than 70,000 people.

But peace talks broke down and new violence flared three years ago. Last year, the government officially scrapped the ceasefire agreement and pledged to destroy the rebel group.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York on Monday that the UN deplores the increasing civilian casualty toll, and that the two sides had to resume peace talks.

With the military sweeping across rebel territory in recent months, the Tamil Tigers have repeatedly called for a new truce, but the government has refused.

In his letter, Nadesan also urged the international community to reconsider its opposition to the rebels’ demand for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority Tamils.

Jehan Perera, a political analyst from the National Peace Council, said the rebel call for a ceasefire showed they were trying “everything militarily and politically” to stave off defeat.

Perera said the two sides should consider the plight of civilians caught in the war zone and agree to a truce. But he said the rebels must be prepared to drop demands that the government does not consider negotiable, such as an independent Tamil state.

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers on Monday called for an immediate ceasefire, but said the rebels should “renounce terrorism and violence once and for all” and push for political talks with the government.

Human Rights Watch said last week that 2,000 civilians have been killed in recent months and accused both sides of committing war crimes.

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