Page last updated at 08:12 GMT, Monday, 2 March 2009

Sri Lanka in new truce rejection

By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan civilians
There are fears for tens of thousands of civilians in the war zone

The Sri Lankan government has rejected fresh calls for a temporary ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told the BBC that if the rebels laid down their arms there would be no need for a halt in the fighting.

He said a pause would only give the rebels time to regroup and consolidate in the north-east.

Reports of growing civilian casualties have prompted the UN, European Union and India to urge a ceasefire.

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


"The pause is not going to give any benefit because it would only prolong the type of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) strengthening," Mr Bogollagama told the BBC.

He said that the government would continue to take a line that met "humanitarian interests" and the concerns of those calling for a truce.


Mr Bogollagama defended the restrictions placed on civilians in the camps that have been set up for those who have escaped the fighting.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council a few days ago, its humanitarian chief, Sir John Holmes, said the restrictions on the movement of civilians into and out of the camps were unacceptable.

But Mr Bogollagama said the restrictions had been put in place mainly for the safety of the civilians and promised that people would be resettled in their original homes in the due course of time.

India has been among those calling for a pause in hostilities to protect civilians.

Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement: "Sri Lanka should seize the reported ceasefire offer by the Tamil Tigers to bring a halt in hostilities."

Last week, the Tigers told the United Nations they were ready to comply with international calls for a ceasefire.

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

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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