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S Lanka rebels 'ready for truce'

Tamil Tigers
The Tigers are refusing to lay down their weapons

Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have told the United Nations they are ready to comply with international calls for a ceasefire with government forces.

But the rebels said they would not lay down their weapons, as the government has demanded.

The Sri Lankan military said again that this must happen before the rebels could take part in negotiations.

The Tigers have been driven from most of the territory they held by an army offensive in the past few weeks.

Many in the international community - including India and the leading international donor group headed by the US, EU, Japan and Norway - have urged the rebels to lay down their arms.

EU foreign ministers renewed their call for a ceasefire on Monday, saying they were "deeply concerned about the evolving humanitarian crisis".

'Painful'

The offer of a truce was made by B Nadesan, the political head of the rebels, in a letter to the United Nations and the international community.

"Already more than 2,000 civilians have been killed and more than 5,000 have been injured," Mr Nadesan wrote.

Sri Lankan soldier walking through ruins of Mullaitivu
The troops are pushing the Tigers into a shrinking territory

"It is painful to see the world maintaining silence on this immense human suffering as if it is amused by what is going on."

Mr Nadesan said a ceasefire was needed to end the miseries of the Tamil people.

"The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] desires that this effort for a ceasefire... grows further into peace talks to seek a political solution to the ethnic conflict," he said.

But he said that the Tigers would not consider disarming until "a permanent political solution is reached for the Tamil people, with the support and the guarantee of the international community".

Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brig Udaya Nanayakkara, told the BBC the government would not accept a conditional truce from the rebels.

Earlier this month the US, EU, Japan and Norway said the rebels should disarm and discuss ending hostilities in order to avoid more civilian casualties.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona was quoted by Associated Press as saying on Monday: "Instead of surrendering as the entire international community and the Sri Lankan government has called them to do, [the rebels] are calling the very people who have asked them to surrender, to save their miserable skins."

India has also called on the rebels to lay down their arms and says it will assist in a civilian evacuation if asked.

In recent weeks, a major Sri Lankan army offensive has inflicted a series of defeats on the Tamil Tiger forces, pushing the rebels into a narrow area of jungle in the north of Sri Lanka.

About 70,000 people have died in the past 25 years as the Tigers have fought for a separate homeland in the north and east of the country.

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