Tamil Rebels Set Deadline, Threaten Sri Lankan 'Bloodbath'

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - One day after a senior American official expressed concerns about a humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels have set a Friday deadline for some 40,000 trapped government troops to give up or face slaughter.

"We are planning for the final assault on Jaffna," said the rebel-run Voice of Tigers radio, monitored here late Thursday. "This is your last chance to surrender or face a bloodbath."

Those soldiers who did surrender would be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the broadcast message said.

There was no immediate reaction from the Sri Lankan government to the deadline.

This is the first time the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have set a deadline for the troops, effectively trapped in the island nation's northern Jaffna peninsula, to surrender.

But with more than 60,000 casualties during the 17-year civil war, the warning is likely to be taken seriously.

In recent weeks, Tamil forces, fighting for an independent homeland in northern Sri Lanka, have won a series of decisive victories against government forces.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga earlier rejected a rebel offer of safe passage to troops in return for their surrender. She said a LTTE demand that the army withdraw from the peninsula was a "joke."

No country would accept such a demand, she said, stressing that Jaffna was an integral part of Sri Lanka.

Kumaratunga also turned down a conditional Indian offer to evacuate the trapped troops.

New Delhi has placed its navy and air force on alert, saying it was prepared to help, if asked.

A special Norwegian peace envoy, Erik Solheim, met Thursday with Indian officials to report back on two days of talks with Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Solheim and Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh "agreed on the need for a political settlement to the conflict within the framework of unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka."