In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers say they will not surrender until their demands are met. Sri Lankan troops have stepped up attacks against the Tamil Tiger rebels on the island's northeastern coast, after dismissing a ceasefire offer from the rebels. The UN has also called for a ceasefire in the region, saying that around 50,000 civilians are still caught up in the country's northern war zone but the government says this is unnecessary.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, right, with UN humanitarian official John Holmes in Colombo on April 27, 2009
“Combat operations have reached their conclusion,” Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said in a statement released on Monday at midday local time.
A government spokesman, Lakshman Hulugalle, said there had only been a change of strategic course: “The government has decided not to use any heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could harm the civilians. Other than that there is no ceasefire.“
The Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram welcomed the decision to stop combat operations in Sri Lanka’s north, saying it offered "solace" to India, where parliamentary elections have been overshadowed by the war in its neighbouring country:
“The Sri Lankan government has put an end to the ongoing hostilities. We interpret that as a cessation of hostilities.”
Ongoing hostilities on the ground
On the ground, however, the military offensive against the Tamil Tigers continued on Monday. Supposedly the government said the troops were concentrating on freeing civilians from the violence of the rebels.
Thinking that victory is nigh and the almost three-decade-long civil war will soon come to an end, the military is allowing rebel chief V Prabhakaran no time to catch his breath. In the past, the rebels have been known to use ceasefires to regroup and make a comeback.
At the weekend, the rebels called for a ceasefire out of consideration for the trapped civilians but the government rejected this request.
“We believe that V Prabakharan is among these civilians,” Hulugalle said. “That’s why these civilians are being kept as hostages.“
Conflicting figures about civilian casualties
Although some 160,000 civilians are thought to have fled the conflict zone, the United Nations says there are some 50,000 still trapped. The government disputes this figure, saying that there are fewer than 15,000 left. The pro-Tiger Tamilnet website said on Monday that up to 160,000 civilians were stuck and they were the victims of heavy shelling.
Last week alone, an estimated 100,000 civilians managed to escape the combat zone.
“There are no more coconuts, no more milk, nothing. It was really difficult. We were shot at the whole time. We lived in a bunker for a whole month. We were very scared,“ one man said of his ordeal.
UN calls for ceasefire ignored
The visiting UN humanitarian chief John Holmes has called for a ceasefire to enable civilians to leave the war zone.
However, so far his calls have been ignored by Colombo.
On Monday, he travelled to the conflict zone in Sri Lanka’s northeast to see the situation in displaced people camps.
According to the few aid organisations that have been allowed to continue their work in the region, the camps are filled to the brim and there is a shortage of supplies.