Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers say ready for ceasefire
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels on Monday announced in a statement that they were ready to comply with international calls for a ceasefire but said they would not lay down their arms.
With rebel forces cornered in the northeast of the island by government troops, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appealed to foreign powers to step in and broker a truce.
"The international community must do everything in its power to bring a ceasefire so that the miseries of the Tamils... are brought to an end," the statement said.
It said the guerrillas had asked the United Nations and a quartet consisting of the United States, the European Union, Japan and one-time peacebroker Norway to pressure the Sri Lankan government into accepting a ceasefire.
The quartet had earlier asked the Tigers to negotiate terms of surrender, saying that the guerrillas were fast losing ground in the face of a major government military offensive.
"The international community should apply pressure on the Sri Lankan government to seek not a military, but a political solution to the ethnic conflict," the LTTE statement said.
But the Tigers also rejected calls to disarm.
"The world should take note that calls for the LTTE to lay down its arms and surrender is not helpful for resolving the conflict," said the statement, issued in the name of the LTTE's political wing leader B Nadesan.
The Tigers charged that dozens of people were being killed and wounded daily in the ongoing heavy fighting in the northeast.
"The protection of the Tamil people is dependent on the arms of the LTTE," the Tigers said. "When a permanent political solution is reached for the Tamil people with the support and the guarantee of the international community, the situation will arise where there will be no need for the arms of the LTTE."
However, the statement also made it clear that they wanted a separate state for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.
"The international community, though it is hesitant to support the political aspirations of the Tamil people for an independent state, it must re-examine our point that an independent state is the only permanent solution to the Tamil-Sinhala conflict."
There was no immediate reaction from the Sri Lankan government.
But the government has vowed to completely defeat the Tigers by April, when the country marks the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year.