Sri Lanka rejects calls for truce as fighting escalates | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 19, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 19, 2009

Sri Lanka rejects calls for truce as fighting escalates

Sri Lanka's government yesterday rejected fresh calls for a truce with Tamil Tigers as troops took another village from rebel control and concern mounted for civilians trapped in the war zone.
Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the government was firmly committed to wiping out "terrorism" and described the demand for a ceasefire from a Tamil Tiger proxy as "laughable".
"We have taken a policy decision to completely root out terrorism," Rambukwella told reporters here. "There will be no ceasefire with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)."
The ceasefire appeal from the Tamil National Alliance echoed calls from Sri Lanka's key international financial backers, including the US, European Union and Japan, for a "no fire period" to allow civilians to get out of harm's way.
A pro-government Tamil legislator said on Tuesday that 288 civilians had been killed during one week this month while nearly 800 were wounded in crossfire in the shrinking territory still under rebel control.
The fighting has provoked a strong reaction in neighbouring India where 62 million Tamils in the state of Tamil Nadu share close cultural and religious links with the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
The Indian parliament was in uproar yesterday when India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee accused the Tigers of causing "much damage" to the wider Tamil community as he stressed the importance of a "negotiated political settlement" acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka.
Indian Tamils have been staging protests condemning Sri Lanka's military offensive with at least two men self-immolating this month. Indian Tamils have also urged New Delhi to broker a ceasefire on the island.
India said yesterday that it was ready to help evacuate tens of thousands of Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire.
However, officials in Sri Lanka said logistics were not the issue and accused the Tigers of forcibly holding the civilians as a human shield in preparation for a final showdown with troops.
Meanwhile, Australia, home to a sizeable number of Tamils, said it was giving 2.55 million US dollars to the International Committee of the Red Cross to help those displaced by the war, adding to a similar-sized donation late last year for food aid.
"Australia is committed to doing what we can, in partnership with the government, the ICRC, UN agencies and other humanitarian bodies, to provide relief for this vulnerable population," said Kathy Klugman, Australia's top envoy here.
Sri Lankan troops are on the verge of crushing the LTTE and ending their 37-year campaign for an independent Tamil homeland after pushing the rebels back into a small stretch of coastal jungle -- less than 100 square in size -- in the island's northeast.
A senior military official said security forces had taken another village that was previously under Tiger control.
The LTTE yesterday denied United Nations allegations that it had stepped up the forcible recruitment of child soldiers ahead of a final showdown with the advancing government troops.

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