Colombo: Sri Lanka on Monday ordered troops to stop using heavy weapons against the Tamil Tiger rebels, and instead focus on protecting and rescuing tens of thousands of people still trapped in the last rebel pocket. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) immediately accused the government of disregarding its own commitment by launching two air raids on the tiny rebel-held area.
Sri Lanka’s announcement came a day after it dismissed an attempt to declare a truce by the rebels, now cornered in less than 10 sq. km of coastline by 50,000 troops fighting to finish Asia’s longest modern war.
Inching closer: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (left) shakes hands with army commander Lt Gen. Sarath Fonseka in a file photo. The army has deployed special forces for rescue work. Reuters
“Combat operations have reached their conclusion,” a statement from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office said. Soldiers would “confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians”.
However, Rajapksa said on Monday his government has not not announced a ceasefire in the operations in the northern parts of the island. “We have not announced a ceasefire. We have only said that aerial bombardment and shelling will not not be carried out,” he told CNN-IBN, the channel said in a release.
Nonetheless, troops kept moving forward, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. “The rescue operation is continuing today,” he said. Special forces, commandos and snipers have been deployed, he said.
Analysts said the announcement appeared designed to mollify diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire, which Sri Lanka has ruled out given the LTTE’s history of using breaks in the fighting to rearm and its rejection of two government truce offers this year.
It is seeking a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan and business executives are optimistic the war’s end will bring foreign investment back, but the LTTE has warned it will stage guerrilla attacks on economic targets as it has done before.
In London, six people were arrested on Monday after Tamil protesters smashed windows at India’s high commission in London and caused damage outside Sri Lanka’s diplomatic mission, Scotland Yard said. Some 200 people gathered outside each of the two countries’ missions to demonstrate against the ongoing violence in Sri Lanka. Extra police were drafted in after “an incident occurred at the Indian high commission, which has resulted in some damage to the building,” said a Scotland Yard spokeswoman.
(‘AFP’ & ‘PTI’ contributed to this story.)