Sri Lanka rebels say truce dead, monitors leave embattled region

COLOMBO, Feb 23, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka truce monitors pulled out of an embattled northern region where thousands of civilians were on the run fearing a fresh military offensive, as Tiger rebels said the ceasefire was all but dead. The local employees of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) were no longer at their posts in Vavuniya — gateway to the Tamil north of the island — after withdrawing Thursday, spokesman Thorfinnur Omarsson said.

He said Scandinavian monitors had not been in Vavuniya for about a week, as thousands of Tamil civilians, fearing fighting, began fleeing a de facto front line between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

“The local staff have left because of some security issues,” Omarsson said. “They want to return together with the foreign staff later.”

The ceasefire brokered by Norway was meant to end a conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives on this island nation in the past 35 years, but after temporarily halting the bloodshed for two years, the deal unraveled.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Thursday night announced they were relaunching their “freedom struggle” to “achieve statehood.”

The announcement came nearly three months after the guerrillas said they mi