Tamil Tigers not withdrawing from cease-fire; Sri Lanka calls for peace talks
Wed November 29, 2006 00:57 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have not quit a truce despite calling it ``defunct,'' European cease-fire monitors said Wednesday, 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 Norwegian-brokered cease-fire 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, with more than 3,500 fighters and civilians killed in unsolved killings, mine blasts, suicide attacks, artillery exchanges, sea battles and air strikes this year, according to government figures.
Monitoring officials were told top rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran called the cease-fire 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 reopens it.
Prabhakaran also said Monday that the rebels were recommencing their freedom struggle.
A Sri Lankan official said Wednesday the government is ready for peace talks.
``We hope they (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 Wednesday, said Kohona.
He will meet with government officials and is likely to visit the rebel leadership in the north.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, 85 vehicles carrying food and medicine reached rebel-held Vaharai village in eastern Batticaloa district to help nearly 36,000 ethnic Tamils trapped by fighting, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.
But he accused the rebels of using the time of the transport _ when government forces held their fire _ to building bunkers. ``The Tigers, taking advantage of the situation, resorted to construct and improve the defenses,'' Samarasinghe said.
On Tuesday, a convoy of 115 aid vehicles was turned back amid heavy shelling, which government and insurgents blamed each other for.
The rebels are fighting to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.1 million minority ethnic Tamils, saying they can prosper only 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 give autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority, but rebels insist on sweeping changes that the government says will infringe on the country's sovereignty.
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Published: Wed Nov 29 04:00:32 EST 2006