Demand For End Of Cease Fire In Sri Lanka
Thursday, February 22nd 2007, 5:51 am
By: News On 6
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Some 8,000 hardline Buddhist monks and lay supporters paraded the streets of Sri Lanka's capital demanding the government scrap a cease-fire with Tamil rebels on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of its signing.
The Norwegian-brokered cease-fire exists only on paper as more than 3,200 people _ guerrillas, soldiers, and civilians _ have died in violence that flared in December 2005.
The Norwegian government said it has not given up hope for peace in Sri Lanka.
``Norway is willing to go the extra mile to assist their peace endeavors at their request. As soon as the parties renew their peace efforts, we will be ready to do all we can to help,'' it said in a statement.
The rebels said a series of recent military operations by the Sri Lankan army had pushed back hopes of restarting peace talks.
``We expected the international community to keep the Sri Lankan state on track, but at this moment we are disappointed,'' rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said.
The hardline ethnic Sinhalese monks _ a powerful political force in the country urged the government to formally end the cease-fire, saying it favors the Tamil Tiger guerrillas.
``This cease-fire is a serious threat to the country's unitary status,'' Wakamulle Uditha Thera, a spokesman for the monks, was quoted as saying by The Island newspaper.
Heavily armed anti-terrorism units patrolled the capital as the military suggested the Tamil Tigers may mark the cease-fire anniversary with violence.
``They have broken the cease-fire agreement so many times by carrying out so many attacks that we are always alert these days,'' military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels began their insurgency against Sri Lankan security forces in 1983, demanding a separate homeland for the island nation's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority. About 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The government says it is willing to give autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority, but the rebels insist on sweeping changes that Colombo says would infringe on Sri Lanka's sovereignty.
Despite the cease-fire, military offensives in rebel-held territory in the north and northeast continue, while the rebels have been blamed for near-daily bombings and other attacks against security forces.