US says clock ticking for Sri Lanka solution

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2009 (AFP) – A US official warned on Monday that time was running out for a deal that he hoped would bring lasting peace to Sri Lanka as he pressed for both sides to halt the fighting. Sri Lankan authorities set a deadline of midday (0630 GMT) Tuesday for the surrender of Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and his cadres making a last stand among thousands of civilians in a northeastern sliver of the island.

US official Michael Owen said Sri Lanka should offer a package in which the Tigers — fighting since 1972 for a separate Tamil homeland — hand in their arms, possibly to a third party, in exchange for amnesty for low-level cadres.

During the surrender, both sides would hold fire and let civilians leave, he said.

“We are running out of time,” Owen, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, told the Brookings Institution think-tank. “Really, there is literally only a couple of days to try to get this finalized.”

“It is something we have been working on very hard and quietly behind the scenes because the only potential we see to bringing this to an end is to have a package in which we have a pause and civilians are allowed to leave,” he