COLOMBO, April 26 (Xinhua) — Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels said on Sunday that it has announced a unilateral ceasefire in the face of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and in response to the calls made by the international community, but the offer has been rejected by the government.
“In the face of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and in response to the calls made by the UN, EU, the governments of the United States, India and others, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has announced a unilateral ceasefire,” the peace secretariat of the LTTE said in a statement.
Tamil civilians flee to government controlled areas from Tamil Tiger rebels’ last territory in Puthukkudiyiruppu, northern Sri Lanka, April 24, 2009. (Xinhua/Chen Zhanjie)
“All of LTTE’s offensive military operations will cease with immediate effect,” the statement added.
However, the Sri Lankan government has rejected the ceasefire offer, insisting that the LTTE must lay down arms and surrender.
Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, was quoted by the media assaying that the offer “is a joke” as the LTTE “were not fighting with us, they were running from us.”
He said there is no need of a ceasefire and the LTTE must surrender.
Lakshman Hulugalle, director general of the government’s Media Center for National Security told Xinhua by telephone that the LTTE “have to lay down arms and surrender. We will definitely carry on with our humanitarian operation.”
Hulugalle said actually there is no formal response from the government because there is no way for the LTTE to officially inform the government about their decision.
The LTTE said in the statement that over 165,000 people living within the coastal area still under the LTTE control in the northern Mullaittivu district are subject to continuous attacks by Sri Lankan Navy, Air Force and Infantry.
“Those who were moved out of the war zone have been detained and are held in concentration camps where they are subjected to torture in violation of all international conventions. These IDP (Internal Displaced Person) population are not permitted to return to their homes. Instead, some are being used as human shields by the Sri Lankan forces,” said the LTTE statement.
The LTTE said it welcomed the attempts by the UN and its agencies to assist the civilian population and are ready to engage and cooperate with them to address the humanitarian needs of the population.
A photograph of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa hangs above defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella (C), who is flanked by military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara (L) and Media Centre for National Security Director General Lakshman Hulugalle, as he speaks during a news conference at the media centre for national security in central Colombo April 22, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
“We are in full agreement that the humanitarian crisis can only be overcome by the declaration of an immediate ceasefire. As the first step we have now announced this unilateral ceasefire and call upon the international community to pressure the Sri Lankan Government to reciprocate it,” the statement added.
The LTTE’s announcement came as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is making a three-day visit to Sri Lanka assessing the government’s humanitarian effort.
Some 50,000 civilians are still believed to be trapped in the conflict between the government troops and the LTTE in the remaining 10-sq-km area safety zone in Puttumatalan, a small town around 400 km northeast of the capital Colombo.
The military said they have secured some 110,000 civilians trapped in the safety zone since Monday when the troops broke the defense lines of the LTTE and entered the area.
This has put pressure on the government’s relief mechanism amid reports of large civilian casualties in the process.
The government said it is on the verge of totally crushing the LTTE as almost all of the 15,000-sq-km territory held by the LTTE has been captured by the government in a military offensive launched in 2006.
Claiming discrimination at the hands of the majority Sinhalese-dominated governments, the LTTE began to fight for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east since the mid-1980s, resulting in the killing of more than 70,000 people.