Sri Lanka rebels declare ceasefire

SRI LANKA’S rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire yesterday, 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 north-eastern 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 that the “humanitarian crisis can only be overcome by the declaration of an immediate ceasefire”.

They urged the international community to persuade the government to lay down its arms also.

But Sri Lanka’s defence 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 yesterday 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.

Meanwhile yesterday, 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 controls all eight provincial councils.

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


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