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Sri Lankan Rebels Offer to Lay Down Their Arms 26 Years After Brutal Civil War Began

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17 May 09 | NYT, BBC, AJE and VOA News

Fierce fighting was reported Sunday in Sri Lanka in what appeared to be a final battle with Tamil separatist guerrillas as the country’s president declared that the quarter-century civil war had ended.

The Sri Lankan military reported that the last of tens of thousands of trapped civilians were pouring from the combat zone after months of bloodshed and that the remnants of the guerrilla force were launching suicide attacks as troops closed in on them.

On the verge of defeat, the rebels offered to lay down their arms, saying they wanted to protect civilian lives. There was no immediate response from the government, but it has ignored rebel calls for a cease-fire in recent months. >>>

Sri Lanka rebels ‘call ceasefire’

Tamil rebels trapSri Lanka rebels ‘call ceasefire’ped in a tiny enclave of northern Sri Lanka have declared a ceasefire, a rebel spokesman says.

The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) had given up their fight against a major government offensive and “decided to silence our guns”, he said on a pro-Tamil website.

“This battle has reached its bitter end,” said Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the Tigers’ chief of international relations, in a statement on Tamilnet.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already claimed victory in the 26-year war.

A later statement on the Tamilnet website appeared to modify the rebel position.

Mr Pathmanathan said the LTTE was “prepared to silence its guns if that is what needed by the international community to save the life and dignity of the Tamil people”.

“In the past 24 hours, over 3,000 civilians lie dead on the streets while another 25,000 are critically injured with no medical attention,” said the statement. >>>

Civilian rescue

Despite the claim of victory, the whereabouts of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of Tigers, remain unknown, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are still either on the move or in camps for the internally displaced.

The Sri Lankan ministry of disaster management and human rights said on Sunday it was continuing to process civilians rescued from the fighting.

Rajiva Wijesinha, a secretary at the ministry, told Al Jazeera from Colombo: “We heard that the last of them [civilians] had been saved. This was one of our great priorities in the last couple of weeks to make sure we got the civilians safely away.”

Amin Awad, a UNHCR representative in Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera “almost all the population in the conflict zone, which has now shrank to less than one sq km, up to 60,000 people” had left.

He said they were being “processed at the Omanthai crossing point. That leaves very few, if any, people in the conflict zone”.

Both the government and the Tamil Tigers have been criticised for not allowing civilians safe exit from the area and for precipitating a humanitarian disaster.

Wijesinha said that just over 30,000 people had left the area of fighting over the past few days.

“These are our people. We were committed to their safety and I think we have achieved it much more sensibly and carefully than any other country in the world could have done,” he said.

“We managed to airlift 12 or 14 people who had been injured. I believe some of the younger members of the Tamil Tigers just refused to listen to the disgusting orders of their seniors.”

The Tamil Tigers had been fighting for more than 25 years for a homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east of the country, arguing that they were marginalised by the ruling majority Sinhalese government.

James Elder, a spokesman for Unicef, told Al Jazeera that civilians were arriving “sick and hungry” and that women and children were malnourished.

“This latest massive influx of people who have endured those extreme conditions is going to put even greater strain on those camps,” he said.

‘Non-combatants’

“These camps are being created by the government, which argues they are on the basis of state security and the time needed for mines to be cleared before resettlement can occur. >>>

Major national celebration

Sri Lanka is preparing for a major celebration following the battlefield defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending a quarter-century civil war. Joyous outbursts that are mixed with some lingering anxiety, especially among the minority Tamils who wonder what the new era will bring for them.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped off his aircraft, on his return from Jordan, to the cheers of supporters who hailed him as a national hero.

On the streets of Colombo, some people hoisted the Sri Lankan flag and set off firecrackers in celebration.

After word came that the rebels had announced their guns would finally gone silent in the northeast, young people celebrated in the backs of slowly moving vehicles along the famous Galle Face seaside boulevard.

But there are no signs, yet, of any mass celebration. A national victory speech by the president is anticipated Monday with a declaration of a national holiday. >>>

More coverage on Sri Lankan Civil War. >>>

FOCUS: Sri Lanka

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Written by Editors

17 May 2009 at 5:05 pm

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  1. […] Sri Lankan Rebels Offer to Lay Down Their Arms 26 Years After Brutal Civil War Began (17 May 09) […]

  2. […] Sri Lankan Rebels Offer to Lay Down Their Arms 26 Years After Brutal Civil War Began (17 May 09) […]


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