Sri Lankan military says 27 Tamil rebels killed, president asks rebels to give up weapons
Thu November 16, 2006 23:07 EST .
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) The military said Friday its soldiers killed 27 Tamil Tiger rebels in eastern Sri Lanka - , as the island nation's president urged the separatist insurgents to lay down their weapons and help end decades of bloodshed. No immediate comment was available from the rebels, who say they want to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka - 's 3.2 million Tamils.
There was also no mention of the reported losses in the rebels' Web site and no independent confirmation.
The call for rapprochement came from President Mahinda Rajapakse during a speech in Parliament where he urged the rebels to renounce violence, surrender their 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.
Rajapakse cited increased violence for the spike in spending. Violence between ethnic Tamil rebels and the government has claimed the lives of over 3,200 combatants and civilians this year, despite a 2002 cease-fire, according to the government.
The rebels gave no formal reaction to Rajapakse's call, but Tiger political wing chief Suppiah Thamilselvan suggested the increased defense spending showed the government is not committed to the peace process.
``In today's budget, the government has massively increased military expenditure. What does that indicate?'' he was quoted as saying by TamilNet, a Web site that reflects the rebels' thinking.
Thamilselvan's comment came after he met with Paul Murphy, a former British Cabinet minister, who on Thursday visited the rebels to try to salvage a Norway-brokered cease-fire.
Murphy, who was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process, drew parallels with that conflict and the separatist insurgency in Sri Lanka - and said there is still hope that Sri Lanka - 's troubles could be resolved through dialogue.
``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 in a statement.
Large-scale fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government erupted in 1983. More than 65,000 people were killed before the truce, which has all but disintegrated amid 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. Discuss this story
Published: Fri Nov 17 07:07:32 EST 2006