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Sri Lankan Government Rejects Rebel Appeal For Truce


In Sri Lanka, the government has rejected an appeal by the European Union for a cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels. Intense fighting is under way in the northeast, where the military is trying to capture the last strip of territory held by the rebels.

The government's outright rejection for a truce with Tamil Tiger rebels came a day after the European Union said the situation of civilians trapped in the war zone is dangerous and called for a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid into the region.

The European Union was echoing an appeal made in recent weeks by the United Nations and the international community.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona says that the Tamil Tigers are deliberately not allowing civilians to leave the war zone and are using them as a buffer against attacks by the military.

"It is also important to remember that this is a cynical situation where the Tigers have herded a large number of people - thousands of people - into an enclave and used them as hostages to convince the international community to call for a cease-fire," the secretary said. "This is absolutely unbelievable situation where a terrorist group holds a large number of hostages to demand a cease-fire to save its own skin."

In a report published last week, the United Nations says that 2,800 civilians had died in recent weeks, as the army pushed to defeat the rebels.

The government says the numbers are unsubstantiated. It also says that a truce will allow the rebels to recover from the devastating defeat they have suffered in the past year.

The military says heavy clashes are taking place as troops advance toward a 30-square-kilometer patch of jungle in which the Tamil Tigers are cornered.

The military says dozens of rebels have been killed in fighting in Mullaitivu District, since Monday, and that troops have destroyed several rebel positions.

Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara says the army is now less than a kilometer away from a safe zone, which was set up to protect civilians inside rebel-controlled territory. He says many civilians have been pouring into this area.

"The civilians are coming in numbers," he noted, "over the last two days over 2,000 people have come. The civilians are being accommodated in the safe zone which we have demarcated."

There is no independent verification of the claims about the fighting because reporters are not allowed into the war zone.

But there is concern that civilians are at grave risk, as the government intensifies its onslaught against the Tamil Tigers. The United Nations estimates that about 150,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone. The government says the number is much smaller.

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