Sri Lankan president asks Tamil Tiger rebels to surrender weapons
Thu November 16, 2006 08:25 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka's president on Thursday asked separatist Tamil Tiger rebels to surrender weapons and help end decades of bloodshed in the island nation, as a British envoy met with the insurgents to salvage a tenuous cease-fire.
In a speech to Parliament, President Mahinda Rajapakse asked the rebels to ``give up violence altogether, surrender arms ... and work toward promoting peace democracy and development in the interest of building a new Sri Lanka.''
Rajapakse, who is also the finance minister, was presenting his administration's annual budget for 2007, which saw a sharp 45 percent increase in defense spending.
``Increased violence compelled the government to channel more resources for security and humanitarian relief operations,'' Rajapakse said, justifying the increase.
There was no immediate reactions from the rebels, who have in the past rejected calls for giving up arms.
Also on Thursday, Paul Murphy a former British Cabinet minister closely associated with the Northern Ireland peace process drew parallels with that conflict and the separatist insurgency in Sri Lanka and said there is still hope that the separatist conflict could be resolved through dialogue.
``There are striking similarities between the Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka conflict,'' Murphy said according to a statement released after meeting the Tigers' political chief Suppiah Thamilselvan.
``Firstly and primarily is the loss of life _ 3,500 people out of 1.5 million died in Northern Ireland. In Sri Lanka, 65,000 people out of 20 million have died as a result of the conflict,'' the statement said.
Murphy, who arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, was the Cabinet minister responsible for Northern Irish affairs between 2002 and 2005, and was closely involved in that region's peace process.
``Ten years ago, people didn't think that the Northern Ireland conflict could be resolved. But it has happened through political negotiations. There are similar hopes and prayers for a political solution in Sri Lanka,'' Murphy said.
But violence continued in Sri Lanka's northeast.
The military's spokesman, Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields in the eastern Batticaloa district, which has come into sharp focus after military shelling killed at least 23 minority ethnic Tamil civilians last week, according to foreign cease-fire monitors.
Samarasinghe said that Tamil rebels fired artillery at military positions on Thursday, killing one soldier.
Separately, a roadside blast targeting a military car in northern Jaffna killed one civilian and injured six others including one soldier, the military and a hospital worker said.
Norwegian peace efforts that led to a cease-fire in 2002 between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels, formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Increasing violence has all but shattered the truce, with near-daily killings.
Both sides refuse to budge from their positions. The rebels want a separate homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority, while the government says regional autonomy is the maximum it will give.
More than 65,000 people were killed before the truce, and the Defense Ministry says an additional 3,200 were killed since last December.
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Published: Thu Nov 16 09:47:32 EST 2006