Sri Lanka president offers talks from former Tiger town

VAKARAI, Sri Lanka, Feb 3, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapkse offered fresh peace talks on Saturday and asked Tiger rebels to lay down weapons as he visited this former guerrilla-held town. The president said he was ready to offer a political package to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to end the island’s decades-old separatist campaign, but the rebels must start decommissioning arms.

“They must begin surrendering weapons and come for talks,” Rajapakse told AFP while visiting this town, wrested from rebel control after weeks of fighting that killed 45 troops and 331 rebels by official count.

The rebels ran Vakarai, 330 kilometres (190 miles) east of Colombo, as a de facto separate state for over 10 years before they were driven out two weeks ago.

“What we have done is to liberate the people from terrorists,” Rajapakse said. “I am here to thank the troops for their action without causing a single civilian casualty.”

The Tigers melted away on January 19 from this area, prompting some 30,000 people to flee to the safety of neighbouring government-held towns.

The region’s top military commander, brigadier Daya Ratnayake, said small groups of civilians were al