Sri Lanka's president has firmly rejected calls for a pause in the fight against the Tamil Tigers, saying the army will stop only when the rebels are wiped out. After a string of battlefield victories, the military says it is close to crushing the insurgents and ending 25 years of civil war, but concerns about civilians trapped in a shrinking war zone have led to international calls for a cease-fire.
The rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, deny they are on the brink of defeat, but have also appealed for a cease-fire. President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that would give the rebels a chance to rearm and regroup.
"We will not cave into pressures from any international quarters locally and internationally and will not stop until the war was completely over," Rajapaksa was quoted late Tuesday as saying on a military Web site.
The government has been saying for months that the war would end soon, but Rajapaksa said recent delays were because the military was exercising restraint dues to worries about civilian casualties. The latest appeal for a cease-fire came from S. Pathmanathan, in charge of international diplomatic relations for the rebels. He was quoted by the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site as saying the international community needed "to apply adequate pressure on the government to enter into a cease-fire with the Tigers." The rebels are now fighting desperately to defend a narrow strip of jungle and beach measuring just 8.4 square miles (21 square kilometers) on Sri Lanka's northeastern coast.
The area is mostly made up of a government declared "no-fire" zone, where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped. The government and international bodies have accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields.
The U.N. estimates there are 150,000 to 190,000 trapped civilians, resulting in dozens of deaths each day. The government disputes the U.N. figure, saying half that number are stuck in the area.
In comments posted on a government Web Site late Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona was quoted as saying a cease-fire would allow the war to drag on for another 25 years.
He accused the rebels of showing an "utter and callous disregard" by refusing to allow the civilians to leave. The rebels say the people are staying because they want the protection of the LTTE.
Verification of the competing claims was not possible because independent journalists are not allowed into the conflict area. Direct contact with the rebels in the north is also no longer possible because communications links have been cut. The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.