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Rebels Call for Peace Talks as Fighting Rages in Sri Lanka

Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have urged the international community to step up pressure on the government to halt military operations against them. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the call comes as at least 19 rebels were killed and 36 others wounded in heavy fighting in the north of the country.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Tamil Tiger guerrillas asked the international community to "rein in the government in Colombo" and ensure it honors a 2002 truce.

The Tamil Tigers accused the government of pursuing a military campaign to defeat the guerrillas.

The call for peace by the rebels came just days after Sri Lanka's defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, offered to halt military action against the rebels if they agreed to peace talks.

However, the head of Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perra, says both the rebels and the government are merely paying "lip service" to the cause of peace. He says neither side is inclined to return to negotiations, which broke down last October.

"One part of the strategy they have is to claim to the international community that they are interested in restarting the peace process and stopping the fighting. But on the ground the reality is otherwise," he said. "Both sides are engaging in hostilities. At the present time, it is the government that is engaging in offensive military operations. The government has the advantage."

Political analysts say the government wants to inflict a military defeat on the rebels before it negotiates on their core demand for an autonomous homeland for the minority Tamil community in the north and east.

Military officials say that dozens of rebels have been killed or wounded in a series of clashes in the north in recent days. Some of the heaviest fighting was reported in Mannar district. Several soldiers were also wounded.

In the past month, the scene of fighting has moved to the north where the rebels have their main bases. Earlier in the year, the government drove the Tigers out of the eastern areas they had controlled for over a decade.

Sri Lanka's civil war resumed early last year after four years of relative peace that followed the signing of a truce in 2002. The fighting has dragged on for nearly a quarter of a century and claimed more than 60,000 lives.