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Sri Lanka Says 500 Rebels Are in Last-Held Territory

[Bloomberg, Monday, 23 March 2009 08:04 No Comment]

Sri Lanka said fewer than 500 fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam remain in the last rebel-held territory in the northeast, as the LTTE called for a cease-fire to allow aid to reach civilians.

Soldiers captured Iranapalai near Mullaitivu at the weekend, the army said on its Web site. The LTTE is blocking food supplies and firing on supply vessels to try to create the “myth” of starvation among civilians, it said.

 

“We call for a cease-fire, loudly and clearly,” B. Nadesan, the head of the LTTE’s political wing, said in an interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times. “Non-stop artillery and aerial attacks are creating an unbearable situation.”

 

Sri Lanka’s military says it is on the brink of defeating the Tamil Tigers, who have fought for 26 years for a separate homeland in the north and east of the nation. The United Nations is leading calls for a cease-fire, saying as many as 180,000 people have been driven from their homes by the fighting in the northern Wanni region.

 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has ruled out any truce with the LTTE and is demanding the group’s unconditional surrender.

 

Media Reports

 

“There is no official communication regarding a cease-fire — there are only media reports,” Lakshman Hulugalle, director for the government’s Media Center for National Security, said today when asked about Nadesan’s comments.

 

“Unless we get an official confirmation, we cannot comment,” he said by telephone from the capital, Colombo.

 

The government accuses the LTTE of holding about 70,000 civilians against their will in combat zones. A total of 45,519 civilians have escaped from LTTE-controlled areas in recent weeks, it said last week.

The Tamil Tigers say that people are staying in LTTE-held territory of their own free will because they don’t want to be placed in government-run internment camps.

 

Nadesan, in his interview with the Sunday Times, called for international monitors to visit the conflict zone. The LTTE will respect any outcome of a referendum on an independent Tamil state as long as Tamils are allowed to return to their homes in the north and east of the country, he said.

The LTTE has been driven from its main bases in the north, including its headquarters at Kilinochchi, since the army began an offensive in the region in January.

Brink of Defeat

 

The army has achieved “99 percent success” in defeating the LTTE, Keheliya Rambukwella, a Cabinet minister and defense spokesman, said last week. The group still has an international network for money laundering, drug trafficking and smuggling of humans, he said.

 

The government is providing food and aid by land and sea for displaced people in the north and the military is making every effort to avoid civilian casualties, Rajapaksa told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a telephone conversation last week, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

[Full Coverage]

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