- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Sri Lanka’s army began two-day cease-fire Monday, halting offenses against the cornered Tamil Tiger rebels and advising thousands of trapped civilians to use the pause to escape the war zone, the military said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the military Sunday to restrict operations to a defensive nature only for the Sri Lankan New Year. His call came amid increasing international pressure on the government to protect civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband welcomed the move and called on both sides to refrain from fighting.

The U.N. says that more than 100,000 people are trapped along with the cornered guerrillas in a government-declared “no-fire” zone measuring just 7.7 square miles (20 square kilometers).

It has said scores of civilians have been killed in the fighting.

The government and aid groups accuse the rebels of using civilians as human shields and have called for their release. The rebels and rights groups have accused the military of firing into the safe zone, a charge the military denies.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said civilians have been notified by loudspeaker to leave the war zone.

Government forces say they are close to crushing the 25-year separatist war after a string of battlefield victories has trapped the rebels into a small strip of land in the Indian Ocean island’s north.

Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates have demonstrated in European capitals over the past months to protest the military offensives in Sri Lanka and to demand a cease-fire.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona on Monday condemned protesters’ attack on Sri Lanka’s embassy Oslo, where demonstrators smashed windows and destroying office equipment after entering the building.

“We strongly condemn this attack. It is a shocking incident and we are disappointed with the Norwegian government for not taking proper measures to protect a diplomatic mission right in its national capital,” Kohona said in a statement.

The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo said the police regret that they did not have enough personnel to protect the embassy.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

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