Friday, January 4, 2008

Sri Lanka Demands Rebels Disarm

The Sri Lankan government said Thursday that the Tamil Tiger rebels must disarm before any future peace talks, a day after the authorities decided to withdraw from an internationally brokered cease-fire with the insurgents.

The 2002 truce had largely collapsed a resurgence in fighting between the two sides came two years ago when the Cabinet unanimously approved the prime minister's proposal to pull out from it on Wednesday.

"It's useless talking to them (the rebels) now," Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Anura Yapa told a news conference Thursday.

"But in the future, due to change of situations if they decide to lay down their arms and come to talks, the government can reconsider," he said.

The cease-fire, brokered by Norway, had been considered the best chance of ending two decades of civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who seek an independent homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east. But major fighting erupted again two years ago.

"Today it was proposed to the Cabinet by the honorable prime minister that the cease-fire is no longer valid and it's time to withdraw from the cease-fire agreement," Yapa said Wednesday. "All the ministers agreed to the proposal."

Under the agreement, both sides must give 14 days notice before officially withdrawing from the truce.

Peace-broker Norway expressed regret Thursday over the Sri Lankan government's decision, warning that violence could escalate further.

"This comes on top of the increasingly frequent and brutal acts of violence perpetrated by both parties, and I am deeply concerned that the violence and hostilities will now escalate even further," Environment and International Development Minister Erik Solheim was quoted as saying on the Norwegian Foreign Ministry Web site.

The Sri Lankan government declared in July that it has routed the rebels from the east. In recent months, the military has focused on crushing the rebels in their de facto state in the north, with near-daily battles raging along the front lines deep in the jungle.

By KRISHAN FRANCIS, Associated Press