|Sri Lanka offers Tigers amnesty on condition of surrender|
|Thursday, 05 February 2009|
by Amal Jayasinghe
COLOMBO (AFP) – The Sri Lankan government Thursday offered an amnesty to Tamil Tiger forces who surrender but refused to contemplate peace talks, vowing instead to crush those rebels who fight on.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told parliament that some rebels were ready to lay down their arms as they face imminent defeat in their decades-long battle for an independent ethnic Tamil homeland.
"It is a wise decision and we are ready to welcome them," Wickremanayake said.
The government however made it clear that it rejected international calls for negotiations to end the fighting, which has triggered global concern over civilian casualties.
The defence ministry said that on Thursday, 700 more civilians had fled rebel-held areas, where it says 120,000 are still being held by the Tigers as "human shields."
The United Nations reported at least 52 non-combatants were killed in a single shelling earlier this week -- though it did not say who was responsible -- and said cluster bombs had been used in the attack.
The government denied it had cluster bombs, which release many smaller explosives over a wide area when they detonate, but said the Tigers were known to have them.
There was no immediate reaction from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been asked by Sri Lanka's international backers to consider terms of surrender to avoid further bloodshed.
The United States, European Union, Japan and Norway asked the rebels to lay down their arms and take part in a political dialogue to end Sri Lanka's vicious civil unrest which has claimed over 70,000 lives since 1972.
"Nothing could be as ridiculous as this," Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse told the Island newspaper on Thursday.
"Nothing short of unconditional surrender of arms and cadres could bring an end to the offensive."
Rajapakse, President Mahinda Rajapakse's younger brother, said Tuesday's statement by the quartet known as the co-chairs was a "transparent attempt to save the Tigers."
The co-chairs said the military had encircled the rebels in the island's northeast and the Tigers were close to collapse after losing over 98 percent of the territory that was under their control a year ago.
The defence secretary stressed there could be no future political role for the Tigers, who are widely expected to return to jungle-based guerrilla warfare if they are defeated.
"The international community should not expect the Sri Lankan government to allow the LTTE's participation as a political party in a fresh negotiations process after the armed forces crushed its wherewithal to wage war," he said.
He suggested low-level rebels might be "rehabilitated" but that senior Tigers, including leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, would be "tried and hanged."
Foreign governments have said the bloodshed must end, and thousands of Tamils and their supporters have held protests in Chennai, Singapore, Paris, Geneva and Berlin.
Pope Benedict XVI added his voice to the calls to stop the military offensive for the sake of what he called "the growing number of innocent victims."
Officials said the Sri Lankan air force on Thursday launched aerial attacks to support advancing troops, who came under fresh attack from the Tigers, while soldiers were also close to capturing the last known rebel naval base.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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