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Sri Lanka Military Denies Resumed Fighting With Tamil Rebels

In Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels say government forces have resumed fighting, following a two-day holiday truce, but the army denies it has resumed fighting. The government has rejected an appeal by the rebels for a permanent truce.

A pro-rebel Web site says Sri Lanka's army began an offensive early Wednesday near a "no-fire" zone where there are tens of thousands of civilians.

Exchange of fire?

The military denied reports of firing into the narrow strip in the northeast of the country, where the army is in the last stages of a campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Army spokesman Udaya Nanayakara says soldiers have surrounded the small, no-fire zone in which the rebel fighters are confined with civilians. But he says troops are only "observing" what is going on in the area.

"There were no confrontations taking place there," Nanayakara said. "We cannot conduct offensive inside the safety zone because of the civilian factor."

Conflicting statements

The conflicting statements came as a two-day unilateral truce declared by the government ended. The truce was meant to allow civilians to move from the narrow coastal area to government-controlled areas, but only about 250 people crossed over.

The government blamed the rebels for not allowing the civilians to leave. It rejected a call by the rebels for an internationally supervised truce and peace talks.

Military campaign aims to crush rebels

The head of Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, says the government is determined to go ahead with its military campaign to crush the rebels, also known as the LTTE, despite widespread concern over the safety of civilians.

"The government feels it is not possible to talk to the LTTE and reach a mutually acceptable solution with them, therefore they have to be eliminated," Perera said. "The unfortunate thing is that in trying to eliminate the LTTE in this very limited area, the civilian casualties are likely to be very, very high.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative urged the Commonwealth to pressure Colombo and the rebels to end the humanitarian crisis caused by the fighting. But many similar calls in recent weeks by the international community have gone unheeded in Colombo.