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19 April 2024

Sri Lanka decides to formally end cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels, minister says

By Agencies



The Sri Lankan government has decided to formally end a cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels that had largely collapsed since a resurgence in fighting two years ago.

The Cabinet unanimously approved Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake’s proposal to pull out from the 2002 truce, Media Minister Anura Yapa told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The decision came hours after a roadside bomb the military blamed on the rebels struck a bus of wounded soldiers being transported to a hospital in the middle of the capital, Colombo, killing four people and wounding 24 others.

The Norway-brokered agreement had been considered the best chance of a permanent end to decades of civil war in the island nation and received widespread international support, especially from the United States, Japan, the European Union and India.

But near-daily ambushes, assassinations and airstrikes have killed more than 5,000 people in a resurgence of violence over the last two years.

“Today it was proposed to the Cabinet by the honorable prime minister that the cease-fire is no longer valid and it’s time to withdraw from the cease-fire agreement,” Yapa said.

“All the ministers agreed to the proposal.”

The withdrawal would formalize what analysts have called an “undeclared civil war.”

Wickramanayake will soon formally notify peace broker Norway about the government’s decision to pull out of the agreement, Yapa said. Under the agreement, both sides must give 14 days’ notice before officially withdrawing from the truce.

Rebel officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the government’s decision.

The pullout would also end the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, an independent Nordic group tasked with monitoring the hostilities.

Jehan Perera, from independent think tank National Peace Council, said the monitors’ departure from the country would deprive the world of independent reports of the fighting.

“This is a loss for the civilians, because the monitors were of some reassurance and comfort to them,” he said.

Wednesday morning’s roadside bomb tore through a major Colombo roadway just after the morning rush hour, scattering glass and rubble across the street. It threw the bus several meters (yards) down the road, shattered its windows and ripped shrapnel holes in its side. Part of a nearby hotel was damaged.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara blamed the rebels for the bomb, which had been planted across from a small hotel and apparently targeted a bus headed toward a hospital with soldiers wounded in northern battles against the insurgents.

The attack killed one soldier and three civilian bystanders, Nanayakkara said.

“We have nothing to do with that,” rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said by telephone.

If the rebels’ involvement is confirmed, it would demonstrate their continued ability to strike deep inside government territory despite a security clampdown on the capital.

The US Embassy condemned the bomb attack and called on the warring sides to find a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Air force jets launched two airstrikes in the north, one targeting a Tamil Tiger naval base in Mannar district and the other a logistics base in Mullaitivu district, Nanayakkara said without giving details of damage or casualties.

He said the raids were not carried out in retaliation of the Colombo bombing, but were a result of previously gathered intelligence.

The rebels said in an e-mail that air force jets bombed a civilian area in Mullaitivu, wounding two civilians and damaging six houses. They did not comment on the military’s claim of the attack in Mannar.

Nanayakkara said soldiers also battled with Tamil guerrillas along the front lines in the north, leaving 13 rebels dead. The fighting killed two soldiers and wounded six others.

There was no immediate comment from rebels on the infantry clashes.

It was not possible to independently verify the claims of either the military or the rebels. (AP)