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Sri Lanka Fighting Escalates as Tamil Tigers Say Cease-Fire is Dead

In Sri Lanka, regional leaders from the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group say a cease-fire with the government is dead, and the country's civil war has resumed. Government officials say they remain committed to the truce, despite government forces making their first attempt to regain territory from the rebels since that cease-fire was signed in 2002.

The Tamil Tigers say they are close to launching retaliatory attacks against government forces, which have tried to seize rebel territory in violation of the cease-fire.

On Sunday, the Sri Lankan army moved into rebel territory in Trincomalee district in the northeast. It was the first time, peace monitors say, that the government has tried to take rebel-held territory since the cease-fire was signed four years ago.

Thorfinnur Omarsson is a spokesman for the European cease-fire monitors. He said the rebel group, also known as the LTTE, sent a letter to the monitors early Monday declaring that they may strike back at government forces.

"They put the responsibility on the government side, he said. "They say that if the attacks from the air and from the ground from the government sources continue, the LTTE will have no option but to retaliate. That's their standpoint."

Officials in the capital Colombo say the offensive aimed to take control of an irrigation channel that the rebels had blocked, to keep water from flowing to government-held land. Four days of air strikes preceded the offensive.

The government and the Tamil Tigers signed a cease-fire in 2002 to end two decades of ethnic war. The rebels had demanded independence for areas in the north and east of the country where the Tamil minority is predominant.

For months, the cease-fire has been slowly unraveling. The rebels are accused of placing land mines on roads and dispatching suicide bombers to Colombo, while the government has used air strikes on rebel territory.

Many political analysts and combatants on both sides say the cease-fire exists in name only.

Mr. Omarrson says the letter from the Tamil Tigers' senior leadership said nothing about dropping their commitment to the cease-fire. But regional commanders have been declaring the ceasefire to be over for weeks.

Elilan is the alias used by the Tamil Tigers political chief in Trincomalee district. He spoke to VOA several weeks ago.

He says the cease-fire is only limited to a piece of paper. The real situation is that there is war. He says that whatever was happening during the war years, it is happening now.

The government has said it remains committed to the cease-fire. It says the air strike Sunday was to open the irrigation channel for humanitarian reasons.

Mr. Omarsson says Norway is expected to send a special peace envoy to Sri Lanka later this week, to meet with rebels and government officials.

The envoy is expected to ask the rebels to lift their order that cease-fire monitors from European Union countries leave the country - a demand they made after the EU listed the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.