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    Sri Lanka Rejects Tamil Tiger Ceasefire

    Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels, on the verge of total military defeat, have declared a cease-fire.  But the military immediately rejected it, saying surrender to Sri Lankan forces is the only option.  The development comes as the top U.N. humanitarian official is in the country pressing for greater and immediate access to the dwindling combat zone.  

    Sri Lanka's defense minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, is rejecting the cease-fire declared by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.  He terms the rebel's announcement a joke as they are on the verge of being totally defeated.

    The LTTE, in a statement, says 150,000 civilians, on the verge of starvation in the sliver of coastal land they still control, can only be helped by a halt in the fighting.

    U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes,met with government officials in the capital and asked for immediate humanitarian access to the combat zone.

    U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss tells VOA News that food, medicine and shelter are desperately needed for both those inside in the conflict area and civilians who have recently escaped. 

    "This is the toughest humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment," Weiss said.  "You have a very large population of people stuck inside a combat area serving as a buffer between an impending government assault and Tamil Tiger resistance.  The second crisis is the one that is evolving in these large camps around the town of Vavuniya."

    An additional 100,000 refugees, many sick or wounded, have streamed into the displacement camps in recent days, overwhelming the limited medical infrastructure. 

    The United Nations estimates 50,000 to 100,000 more Tamils are still trapped by the fighting.  The government says the number is no more than 10,000 and its troops are taking all precautions to avoid harming the innocent as they make the final push to defeat the rebels.

    Sri Lanka has rejected international calls for relief workers to gain access to the combat zone.  It claims such a move would allow the guerillas to continue fighting.

    U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss says that cannot be used as a valid excuse. 

    "There is an element of truth in that," Weiss said.  "But the option to simply starve a large population of civilians because you have a parasitic insurgency group attached to them is not a choice.  That is clearly stated under humanitarian law.  And that is why the laws of wars exist to guide governments in precisely these sorts of conditions."

    The civil war has continued for a quarter century, pitting the majority Sinhalese government against a violent Tamil insurgency seeking a separate homeland in the north.  


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