Sri Lankan rebels say ready for truce, peace talks

April 14, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels said Tuesday they were ready to negotiate a ceasefire with government forces and restart peace talks to halt decades of ethnic bloodshed. The government said it hoped that non-combatants would be able to leave a narrow strip of coastal jungle where they are allegedly held hostage by the Tigers. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), cornered in a narrow strip of jungle in the northeast and vastly outnumbered, said they wanted a long-term truce supervised by the international community.

“Such a ceasefire should also contain a base for political negotiations,” the rebels said in a statement.

But Sri Lanka’s government immediately rejected the call, saying the guerrillas had to first lay down their arms before any negotiations could be held.

“They can’t talk about a political settlement to buy time to regroup,” said government spokesman Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena.

The Tigers have suffered months of battlefield setbacks at the hands of government troops, and their 37-year armed campaign for an independent Tamil homeland appears close to an end.

The Sri Lankan government has ordered a temporary halt in fighting thi