COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels appealed again Tuesday for a halt to fighting in their war against the government, though they denied they were on the brink of defeat despite being backed into an ever-shrinking pocket of land.
The appeal for a cease-fire from S. Pathmanathan, in charge of international diplomatic relations for the rebels, comes as the government says it is close to crushing the insurgents and ending 25 years of civil war.
Pathmanathan was quoted by the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site as saying the international community needed “to apply adequate pressure on the government to enter into a cease-fire with the Tigers.”
The government has said in the past that it would agree to a cease-fire if the rebels laid down their arms first. Pathmanathan called that condition “not realistic.”
The government rejected the rebels’ latest appeal.
“We know that making a sort of agreement with the Tigers is not something we can rely on,” government official Rajiva Wijesingha told reporters Tuesday.
He said the tens of thousands of people trapped in the war zone have a greater chance of crossing into government territory as military forces “are now very close to the civilians and the front lines are within their sight.”
The government and international bodies have accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields, and this week the Ministry of Defense said the rebels were mounting heavy artillery and mortar attacks from the zone.
Pathmanathan denied that the rebels were holding the people against their will.
“The Tamil people have lived with us in the areas that were under our governance and have moved with us in the recent displacements seeking our protection,” he said.
Even though the rebels have suffered a string of military defeats in the last several years and are now fighting desperately to defend a narrow strip of jungle and beach measuring just 8.4 square miles (21 square kilometers) on Sri Lanka’s northeastern coast, Pathmanathan said it was a temporary setback.
“It is wrong to assume that the LTTE is in a weakened position. The LTTE is a versatile and resilient movement,” he said, using the acronym for the rebels’ formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Most of the area the rebels occupy has been designated a “no-fire” zone by the government to protect trapped civilians. The U.N. estimates there are 150,000 to 190,000 such people, resulting in dozens of deaths each day. The government disputes the U.N. figure, saying half that number are stuck in the area.
Verification of the competing claims was not possible because independent journalists are not allowed into the conflict area. Direct contact with the rebels in the north is also no longer possible because communications links have been cut.
The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 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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