Under Political Pressure, Sri Lanka Gov't Offers Truce To Rebels

By R. Raghavendra | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Colombo, Sri Lanka (CNSNews.com) - In a major policy departure, Sri Lanka Wednesday offered a "mutually agreed" truce to separatist Tamil guerrillas in a bid to revive a stalled peace initiative.

Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told reporters the government was looking to invite the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to hold talks aimed at\tab establishing peace in the country.

"There has been a reassessment of policy on this matter and the government is now ready for a mutually agreed ceasefire before talks," Kadirgamar told CNSNews.com.

The foreign minister said the invitation would have formed part of a joint statement by the ruling People's Alliance and the opposition United National Party, had the two reached an agreement over forming a national government Tuesday night.

But the unity talks failed over political issues, leaving the situation as it was, with the alliance unable to muster a majority in parliament.

With the talks having broken down, the government was now considering extending an invitation to the guerrillas on its own.

"I cannot say this will happen in minutes or hour or days," Kadirgamar said. "It is a very serious option we are considering [but] don't hold me to a deadline."

A ceasefire ahead of talks is one of the main demands of the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers. The rebels had announced a ceasefire last Christmas Eve and observed it for four months, while urging the government to reciprocate it and commence peace talks.

But President Chandrika Kumaratunga rejected the appeal and insisted the government would declare a ceasefire only after the guerrillas entered into negotiations, and that they proceeded satisfactorily. The bloodshed continued, and in a spectacular suicide assault on Sri Lanka's international airport last month, rebels killed 18 people and destroying 13 aircraft.

The Norwegian government earlier attempted to broker a peace deal between the government and rebels. A special advisor was appointed to negotiate with the parties and try to bring them to the negotiating table.

Analysts said Wednesday the LTTE may accept the talks invitation, as it would be negotiating from a stronger position since the alliance has no majority in parliament.

Political observer Dr. Rohan Samaraweera said that government's departure from its firm policy was an indication of its desperation to hold talks or at least take steps towards that goal.

"Either the government wants to divert the attention of the people from the present political crisis, or is buying time to stay in power," he commented.

Samaraweera predicted that a mutually agreed ceasefire would help reduce tensions in Sri Lanka as well as in south India, the source of supplies smuggled in by the rebels.

"It would also mean a smaller number of Sri Lankan Tamils crossing over to India as refugees if the government troops and rebels stop exchanging fire," he added.