Rajapaksa vows to crush LTTE; US and Britain for ‘temporary’ truce


Colombo/Chennai : Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Wednesday predicted a decisive victory over the Tamil Tigers “within a few days” as the US and Britain called for a temporary truce to help civilians trapped in the war to move to safety.

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Rajapaksa spoke as a section of opposition political parties observed a 12-hour strike in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to denounce civilian killings in Sri Lanka and in support of a ceasefire in the island nation.

The strike leaders called the shutdown “a success” and warned of bigger protests if New Delhi did not exert pressure on Colombo to end its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But the authorities insisted that life was normal in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

The strike coincided with Sri Lanka’s 61st independence anniversary, whose main function was held under tight security in Colombo where President Rajapaksa vowed to crush the Tamil Tigers.

“I am confident that in a few days we will decisively defeat the terrorist force that many repeatedly kept saying was invincible,” he said in an address to the people at the Galle Face Green promenade in the very heart of the Sri Lankan capital.

His remarks came as troops fighting their way deep into LTTE strongholds were poised to strangle the Tamil guerrillas, whose dragging separatist campaign has claimed over 70,000 lives since 1983.

The LTTE is now holed up in a 300-sq km area in Mullaitivu district.

Rajapaksa said that although Sri Lanka had commemorated independence every years, it could not celebrate the “true freedom” as the people “have lived in the midst of an illegal, armed, terrorist movement”.

“We have now been able, within a short span of two and half years (since he was elected as president), to almost completely defeat the cowardly forces of terror that had wrapped our entire nation in fear for decades,” he said.

But amid persisting reports of widespread civilian suffering in the wake of the military advance into LTTE’s shrinking territory, the US and Britain sought a temporary halt to fighting in Sri Lanka to let up to an estimated 250,000 civilians trapped by fighting to leave for safer areas.

A joint statement issued following a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in Washington Tuesday expressed “serious concern” about the “deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka”.

A statement from the US embassy in Colombo said the two leaders felt that the “time to resume political discussions is now”.

Clinton and Miliband urged Sri Lanka and the LTTE “to agree to a temporary no-fire period”, to ensure the safety of the civilians. “Both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access to humanitarian agencies.”

In Tamil Nadu, more than 1,100 protestors were arrested in a bid to foil Wednesday’s opposition-sponsored strike against civilian killings in Sri Lanka.

The protest seriously hit life in Puducherry, where television channels showed empty streets. Puducherry lies about 280 km from Chennai.

Residents in Chennai said that most shops and businesses were open and traffic appeared to be normal. A majority of the schools reported normal attendance. But colleges have been shut across Tamil Nadu in the wake of earlier student protests against the Sri Lanka bloodshed.

The police said that over 45 buses were damaged across the state in stone throwing by strikers. Director General of Police K.P. Jain said some shops and business showrooms that remained open were targeted in Chennai.

Sporadic incidents of violence were also reported from Cuddalore, Trichy, Madurai, Sivakasi, Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari.

A cycle showroom was attacked and damaged outside the Madras High Court by lawyers, who along with students have taken the lead in the protests against Colombo.

Wednesday’s strike was called by a group led by Tamil nationalist leader P. Nedumaran, a long-time supporter of LTTE’s elusive chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. Nedumaran called the strike “a grand success”.

Several political parties, including the PMK and MDMK, participated in the strike. Some of them espouse the LTTE’s separatist cause.

Tamil Nadu, a state of nearly 70 million, is divided from Sri Lanka by a narrow strip of sea. The LTTE and other Tamil militant groups from Sri Lanka once enjoyed sanctuary in the state.