The Sri Lankan military may allow a short ceasefire in its offensive against Tamil rebels to allow thousands of trapped civilians to escape the fighting, a state-run newspaper said on Sunday. The United Nations and many countries around the world have called for non-combatants to be protected as government troops move to crush the Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who have been pushed to the brink of defeat.
Sri Lankan army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka would agree to a "48-hour pause in firing if there is a guarantee that civilians will be allowed to move out of the no-fire zone freely," the Sunday Observer reported. On Friday the Sri Lankan government announced it had set up "rescue points" just outside the "no-fire zone" to assist civilians who had managed to flee the violence.
Both sides have been accused of attacks inside the small coastal area that the government has designated as a "no-fire zone."
The Tigers, who are also accused of holding the civilians hostage, have suffered months of battlefield defeats that threaten to finally bring to an end their decades-long armed campaign for an independent Tamil homeland. The Observer also said the remaining Tigers had opened fresh talks with officials from Norway, which brokered an ineffectual peace deal in 2002.
The UN, which calculated 2,800 non-combatants were killed in a two-month period earlier this year, fears thousands more could die or be wounded as the military fights to secure complete victory over the Tigers.
About 100,000 demonstrators marched through London on Saturday to demand a truce, and similar protests were held in Scandinavia and Paris.