LTTE seeks truce and talks, Sri Lanka says ‘no’ (Second Lead)

February 23rd, 2009 - 7:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaColombo, Feb 23 (IANS) Battered and cornered, the Tamil Tigers Monday sought a ceasefire and peace talks, but Sri Lanka rejected the appeal and asked the rebels surrender unconditionally.
“Our position is that they must lay down arms and surrender. There is no shift in the government’s position in this regard,” military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS.

He said that Sri Lankan troops had confined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a 73 sq km stretch of land in Mullaitivu district.

“There is no question of a ceasefire now. When the LTTE surrenders with its weapons, there will be a ceasefire automatically,” Nanayakkara added.

The LTTE, whose fighters are now concentrated in a small land area of Mullaitivu, earlier demanded a ceasefire and talks with Colombo but added that it was not ready to lay down weapons.

In a dramatic announcement, the rebels said there was also an urgent need to initiate a political solution in Sri Lanka, where the Tamil separatist conflict has claimed over 70,000 lives since 1983.

The LTTE’s appeal came in a statement released by its political head B. Nadesan to US President Barack Obama, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Prime Ministers Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and Taro Aso of Japan.

“The international community must do everything in its power to bring a ceasefire so that the miseries of the Tamils in Wanni are brought to an end and they are protected and their food and medicine requirements are fulfilled,” the LTTE statement said.

“We also wish to inform the international community that we are ready to discuss, co-operate, and work together in all their efforts to bring an immediate ceasefire and work towards a political settlement,” Nadesan said.

Sri Lanka’s major donor partners, the US, the European Union, Japan and Norway, form the Tokyo Co-Chairs group that has overseen the now dead peace process in the island nation.

Responding to a repeated call by the international community, including India, for the laying down of weapons, Nadesan said that “calls for the LTTE to lay down its arms and surrender is not helpful for resolving the conflict”.

“It is the political reality that the arms of the LTTE are the protective shield of the Tamil people and their tool for political liberation. When a permanent political solution is reached for the Tamil people, with the support and the guarantee of the international community, the situation will arise where there will be no need for the arms of the LTTE,” Nadesan said.

The LTTE’s offer of ceasefire came two days after its two lightwing improvised Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft were shot down as they tried to bomb targets in Colombo.

Defence spokesman and Minister of Foreign Employment Keheliya Rambukwella said the elusive rebel chief and his men “are now in total disarray” after his strategy to cause maximum destruction to the government and the armed forces by air bombing ended up in failure.

Meanwhile, the European Union Monday called for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka but urged the LTTE to surrender its weapons. At the same time, it stressed that the Sri Lankan conflict cannot be resolved militarily.

“The EU calls for an immediate ceasefire thereby providing for the establishment of full and unrestricted access, allowing humanitarian aid to be safety delivered and allowing civilians to leave the conflict area,” said the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

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