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Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Sri Lanka rejects dialogue appeal

Sri Lankan soldiers at Mullaitivu
The Sri Lankan military has vowed to crush the rebels

The Sri Lankan government has rejected a call by international donors for Tamil Tiger rebels to negotiate terms of surrender with the government.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the BBC that the government would accept only "unconditional surrender".

The US-led donors have urged the Tigers to consider laying down their arms to avoid further bloodshed after a series of major defeats on the battlefield.

Fears are rising for tens of thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting.

Meanwhile officials say the army has captured the last known rebel naval base in the north-east of the island.

'Suicide attacks'

Mr Rajapaksa told the BBC: "There is no question of negotiations on surrender. The rebels should surrender unconditionally. They should lay down their arms first."

He ruled out any amnesty for top rebel leaders, but said that "lower level cadres" would be "given amnesty, retrained, given vocational training and integrated into mainstream society".

INSURGENCY TIMELINE
1976: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam form in the north-east
1987: India deploys peace-keepers to Tamil areas but they leave in 1990
1993: President Premadasa killed by Tiger bomb
2001: Attack on airport destroys half Sri Lankan Airlines fleet
2002: Government and rebels agree ceasefire
2005: Mahinda Rajapaksa becomes president
2006: Heavy fighting resumes
2009: Army takes main rebel bases of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu

Mr Rajapakse also rejected US-led calls for a ceasefire, saying that the rebels had used ceasefire time "only to regroup and attack security forces".

"When the government declared a 48-hour ceasefire period last week, the rebels used the period to launch suicide attacks near the frontlines using three trucks loaded with explosives," he said.

There has been no word yet on the latest developments from the rebels, who are boxed in by troops in a shrinking piece of territory in the north-east.

However the pro-rebel TamilNet website on Thursday again accused the army of shelling a hospital following similar claims throughout the week.

Meanwhile army spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said troops had captured "the last major Tamil Tiger naval base on the eastern coast".

He said that at least 15 rebels, including three senior commanders, had been killed in the fight for the Chalai base on Wednesday.

There is no independent confirmation of the claim as independent journalists are not able to reach the front lines.

The military has already made it clear it is in charge of the seas, following the last major clash between the two sides last month in which the navy said four rebel boats were sunk in the north-east.

It says that its control has been strengthened as rebel territory diminishes and the length of coastline they control is reduced to about 30km (18.7 miles).

Yet despite these reported setbacks, pro-rebel websites have also been critical of the suggestion the Tigers consider laying down their weapons.

Both sides have been urged to declare a ceasefire to allow casualties to be evacuated from the war zone in the north-east. Up to 250,000 civilians may be trapped.

The government says more than 1,500 people have crossed from rebel-held areas to government-held territory in the past four days.

The Tigers have said they will not lay down their arms until they have a "guarantee of living with freedom and dignity and sovereignty".

Meanwhile, heavy fighting between the government forces and soldiers is continuing in the north-east of the country, says the BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan in Colombo.

A military spokesman said the army had beaten back counter attacks by the rebels in the Mullaitivu area.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said that 52 civilians had been killed in 24 hours of fighting.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said the rebels' defeat is imminent.

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