Sri Lanka offers olive branch to Tamil Tigers

Sept 23, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka offered Sunday to halt major military operations against Tamil separatists in exchange for peace talks following intense international censure.

The military will not press ahead with a ground offensive if the Tigers agree to talk, Defence Ministry secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse told a newspaper.

The country’s top defence official said it was now up to the Tigers to decide if the military should keep up the offensive and urged them to resume peace negotiations which collapsed in October last year.

“The decision (of war or peace) is theirs and I believe they wouldn’t reject this opportunity,” Rajapakse told the Sunday Island. “We’ll not take advantage of the ground situation,” if the Tigers agree to negotiate.

Rajapakse, who is also the president’s younger brother, made the comments after the island’s key international backers led by the United States warned Colombo against pressing ahead with a military drive.

The surprise olive branch came just days after the defence secretary had vowed to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Rajapakse had on Monday called for stepped up military action to finish off th