Sri Lankan president warns Tigers as violence escalates

May 14, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse has warned Tiger rebels not to take his patience for weakness and vowed to defend his country against attacks. Rajapakse, 60, said in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper he was committed peacefully to settling the Tamil separatist conflict and had ordered recent air attacks against rebel positions as “preventive action to avert another war.”

“My patience should not be misconstrued as weakness,” Rajapakse said. “If they insist on continuing their attacks, I have to defend my country.”

Rajapakse urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to “cease violence” and resume negotiations with the government on ending the conflict which has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1972.

He said many believed that the Tigers had declared “war” when a suicide bomber tried to kill army chief Sarath Fonseka on April 25, but the government still respected the truce in place since 2002.

More than 200 people have been killed in the past month in an escalation of violence despite the four-year ceasefire. Each side has blamed the other.