Tamil Rebels Silent on Peace Offer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Tamil rebels today remained silent over Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s peace offer, apparently sticking with plans to recapture their former stronghold, Jaffna.
Kumaratunga on Friday asked the rebels to lay down their arms and engage in talks with her to end the 17-year-old war, which has claimed 62,500 lives.
But Kumaratunga also accused the rebels of betraying a Norwegian peace initiative to end the conflict. She said the guerrillas launched a ``fierce attack″ on government forces last week, despite contacts between the Norwegian government and the guerillas over the past 13 months.
Norway took the initiative after both the government and the rebels asked for help in resuming negotiations following a five-year deadlock.
Meanwhile, 11 guerrillas and two soldiers were killed in sporadic fighting near a strategic causeway, the Defense Ministry said today.
The soldiers died Friday when the rebels pounded military positions in Mugamalai, near the Elephant Pass land bridge, which connects the northern Jaffna peninsula with the rest of the country.
The ministry said some officers were wounded in the bombardment but did not specify how many.
The rebels last week overran Elephant Pass and are advancing toward Jaffna, 185 miles north of the capital, Colombo. Government troops have fanned out in two columns to thwart their progress.
Ten thousand soldiers withdrew from the causeway last week in one of the government’s most humiliating defeats.
The military said 214 soldiers died while defending Elephant Pass and their troops killed 150 rebels. The Tamil Tigers’ Web site said more than 1,000 soldiers had been killed.
The guerrillas have vowed to recapture Jaffna, a city of 500,000 that is the center of Tamil culture in Sri Lanka but fell to the military in December 1995. The rebels say Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, who dominate the government and the military, discriminate against Tamils.
On the Net:
Rebel Web site, www.eelamweb.com
Government Web site, www.priu.gov.lk