Sri Lanka rebels declare cease-fire

Sri Lanka's rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire today, but the government refused to halt its offensive into the last strip of land the insurgents hold despite concerns for tens of thousands of civilians trapped there.



A top UN official urged Sri Lankan leaders to let aid into the tiny war zone along the northeastern coast, as reports have grown of starvation and casualties among those stuck inside.

The rebels, who have voluntarily halted their fight before, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press that the "humanitarian crisis can only be overcome by the declaration of an immediate cease-fire." They urged the international community to persuade the government to lay down its arms also.

But Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rejected the call saying the rebels were "running" from government forces. In recent months, troops have pushed deep into the Tamil Tigers' strongholds in the north, surrounding the beleaguered rebels and vowing to end the quarter-century war.

UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes held meetings Sunday with senior officials in Colombo and was "underscoring the urgent need for humanitarian access by the UN to the combat zone," UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said.

Aid workers have been barred from the region since fighting escalated in September.

Holmes, who arrived late Saturday, had previously called on the government to suspend its offensive to allow an estimated 50,000 trapped civilians to escape. The rebels have warned the number of noncombatants is three times that figure.

Holmes was to head Monday to the northern region of Vavuniya to inspect displacement camps and hospitals that have been overwhelmed by the more than 100,000 civilians who fled the war zone over the past week.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband will also visit Sri Lanka with his French and Swedish counterparts on Wednesday to try to mediate on the conflict, according to a statement from the prime minister's office in London.

The UN says nearly 6,500 civilians have been killed in the fighting over the past three months. Holmes said Saturday that the trapped civilians were suffering a "very high" casualty rate, and from lack of food, clean water and medical supplies.

The government insists it has sent food and medicines and accuses the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields. It is not possible to verify the claims because the government has barred independent journalists from the war zone, arguing that it is too dangerous for them to work.

Meanwhile Sunday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's coalition won a sweeping victory in an election seen as a referendum on its fight against rebels.

The governing United People's Freedom Alliance coalition was declared the overwhelming winner in the latest poll, sweeping nearly two-thirds of the vote in the Western Province. The coalition even won in the capital, Colombo, long a stronghold of the opposition United National Party, which advocated talks with the rebels.

The governing coalition now controls all eight of the country's provincial councils.

"The electorate ... clearly responded to the call of the president for a united Sri Lanka," Media Minister Anura Yapa said.

In a sign, the rebels are feeling the pressure of the army's monthslong offensive, 23 insurgents surrendered on Sunday.

Dressed as civilians, they turned themselves over to the advancing troops, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman.

Last week, two prominent rebels — the group's former media spokesman, Velayutham Dayanithi, whose nom de guerre is Daya Master, and an interpreter for group's political wing, known only as George — surrendered.

The rebels, listed as a terrorist group by many Western nations, have been fighting since 1983 for an ethnic Tamil state in the north and east after decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. After more than three years of intense fighting, the military stands on the verge of crushing the group.

Fighting, meanwhile, continued today in the ever-shrinking war zone, with sea battles and infantry clashes.

Navy patrol boats destroyed three rebel boats, killing at least 12 insurgents early Sunday, said navy spokesman Cmdr. Mahesh Karunaratne. He said that the guerrillas were preparing to attack army troops on the coast.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project