Tamil rebels call for renewal of cease-fire in Sri Lanka

Colombo, June 26 (DPA) Tamil rebels have called for the full implementation of the now defunct cease-fire agreement in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka where fighting has escalated during the past 18 months, claiming more than 5,000 lives, a pro-rebel website said Tuesday.

The call to re-implement the five-year-old cease-fire agreement came ahead of a meeting in Oslo Tuesday between major foreign donors to Sri Lanka. The donors are seeking ways to revive the stalled peace process.

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The Norwegian backed cease-fire signed between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in February 2002 is at a standstill since fighting between the two sides recommenced in December 2005.

Tamil rebel political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan told the pro-rebel website TamilNet that the international community should come forward to force the Sri Lankan government to implement the cease-fire agreement in full and “only the cease-fire agreement can save the island from disaster”.

The cease-fire brought a “temporary reprieve” to 20 years of fighting and was the first agreement that came about with the assistance of the international community and was supported by them, Thamilselvan was quoted as saying on TamilNet.

Attempts by the international community to get the government and the LTTE to abide by the cease-fire have failed in the past as both sides have accused the other of initiating attacks.

The military has declared that it was forced to retaliate after the rebels attacked. However, the rebels accuse the military of carrying out offensive operations to recapture rebel-held areas.

Government troops backed by air cover have carried out a series of military operations in the east, capturing almost the entire rebel-held area and cornering the rebels into one jungle hideout. The LTTE claims that it is still capable of carrying out retaliatory attacks.

Rebels renewed their attacks on government forces soon after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected in 2005. Though three rounds of peace talks were held since then, the negotiations failed and both sides have conceded that the cease-fire is defunct.

The international donors – the US, Japan, Norway and the European Union (EU) – who are meeting in Oslo recently conducted high-level visits to Sri Lanka, according to Norway’s Minister of International Development Erik Solheim, who played a key role in Sri Lanka’s peace process. The donors are also known as the Co-Chairs.

“The Co-Chairs will explore ways and means in which the group, as a whole or as individual countries, can continue helping the parties to cease violence and return to the negotiating table,” Solheim said.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher will represent the US. Special Representative Yasushi Akashi will represent Japan. Director-General Andreas Michaelis will represent the EU Presidency and Acting Deputy Director-General James Morran will represent the EU.