UPDATED ON:Monday, May 18, 2009
CENTRAL/S. ASIA Sri Lanka's Tigers 'silence guns'
The government says tens of thousands of civilians have been streaming out of the war zone [Reuters]
Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist fighters have decided to "silence" their weapons after admitting that the conflict in the north of the island had reached a "bitter end".
But the military rejected the declared ceasefire and said it would continue its offensive against the separatist fighters.
The declaration by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Sunday came shortly after the army said that at least 70 Tamil Tigers had been killed as they tried to flee the war zone.
"This battle has reached its bitter end," Selvarajah Pathmanathan, a spokesman for the LTTE, said in a statement.
"It is our people who are dying now from bombs, shells, illness and hunger. We cannot permit any more harm to befall them," he said.
"We remain with one last choice: to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns."
The government says "fighting is still going on in small pockets" [AFP]
Pathmanathan added that the separatist fighters' "only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer".
Anura Yapa, the media minister,
dismissed the ceasefire declaration,
saying that "fighting is still going on
in small pockets".
"We want to free this country from the terrorist LTTE," he said.
'Conflict not resolved'
Despite the government's apparent crushing military victory against the Tigers, however, Erik Solheim, a Norwegian minister and former negotiator in the conflict, warned on Sunday that "peace is long from being won".
"The conflict is not resolved even if the battle has been won."
Norway helped broker a ceasefire in February 2002, which came to an end in October 2006 when peace negotiations broke down.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president, has said that after defeating the separatists, his government would begin talks towards power sharing and political reconciliation between the Tamils and majority Sinhalese government.
But many Tamils are sceptical that the victorious government will be willing to make real concessions.
Leader still at large
And with Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tigers, still at large, the threat of renewed guerrilla warfare remains.
Sri Lankans in Colombo have been celebrating the end of the war [AFP]
Narayan Swamy, the editor of Indo-Asian News Service and author of Tigers of Lanka: