Sri Lanka pledges to honor cease-fire after rebels warn of return to civil war
Sat July 15, 2006 06:28 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The Sri Lankan government said Saturday it will honor a four-year cease-fire despite stepped-up clashes between soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels that have killed nearly 30 people in recent days and threaten to drag the country back to full-scale civil war.
``So far ... we are going to honor the cease-fire,'' chief government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told The Associated Press. ``We are going to exercise restraint, as we sincerely believe that war is not a solution,'' Rambukwella said.
Fighting on Friday killed at least 16 people, the Red Cross and rebels said Saturday.
The rebels returned the bodies of 12 soldiers on Saturday, officials from the Nordic cease-fire monitoring team said. The bodies were handed over to Red Cross officials in a rebel-held area in the east, a spokesman for the monitors, Thorfinnur Omarsson, said.
The Tigers were still holding one other soldier, wounded in the battle in the rebel-held village of Kulathumadu, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) east of the capital, Colombo, he said.
A Red Cross statement later said the rebels had refused to allow them to see the captured soldier, although a doctor was permitted to examine the soldier to assess his condition.
Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said another four soldiers were wounded. He denied troops had knowingly entered the rebel area, saying there was no way of knowing they had left government-held territory.
Under a Norway-brokered cease-fire signed in 2002, both sides are prohibited from entering each other's territory with arms.
Samarasinghe said he had information that at least 10 Tamil rebels were killed in Friday's clashes, but there was no independent confirmation of that claim.
The pro-rebel Web site TamilNet reported Friday that four rebel fighters were killed.
The Red Cross statement appealed to both sides to honor international laws, treat captives humanely and give the wounded adequate medical care.
More than 750 people have been killed in escalating violence, especially in Sri Lanka's north and east, since December, raising fears that the island nation could plunge back into full-blown civil war.
``Friday's incursion ... marks a degree of escalation in the long-running 'low intensity war' between the (rebels) and the Sri Lankan military,'' TamilNet said Saturday.
The Tamil Tigers _ formally named the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam _ have fought the government since 1983 for a separate homeland for the country's 3.2 million ethnic Tamil minority, accusing the 14 million Sinhalese of discrimination.
More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the 2002 truce.
Discuss this story
Published: Sat Jul 15 07:37:56 EDT 2006