Monday, April 27, 2009

Tamil ceasefire bid fails as fears grow for 50,000 trapped civilians

By Ben Farmer | Irish Independent, Monday April 27, 2009

Sri Lanka’s government last night rejected a ceasefire offered by Tamil Tiger rebels who said they were prepared to allow humanitarian workers access to up to 50,000 civilians trapped by fighting.

The unilateral offer came after the United Nations appealed for a ‘pause’ in the fighting, which is centred around a tiny strip of land in the north-east of the island.

But Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan defence minister, said the offer was a “joke” and instead demanded that the rebels surrender.

“There is no need of a ceasefire. They must surrender,” said Mr Rajapakse.

A Tiger statement announced the ceasefire “in the face of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and in response to the calls made by the UN, EU, the governments of India and others”.

The civilians are trapped in the last remaining Tiger enclave, where they have little food or clean water and are taking “very high” casualties, according to the UN.

John Holmes, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said there was an “urgent need” for aid agencies to get into the combat zone.

But government forces fear the Tigers will use a pause in fighting to regroup or escape.

A Tiger spokesman said that the group’s fighters would only keep their offer of a ceasefire if the government reciprocated.(©Daily Telegraph, London)

- Ben Farmer

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