Tamil rebels seek Norway help to stop Sri Lanka offensive


Tamil Tiger rebels asked peace-broker Norway on Tuesday to pressure Sri Lanka's government to stop a military offensive in the island's north, saying a venerated Catholic church was at risk.

Government forces backed by artillery are pushing into territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Wanni region, and the guerrillas said the Roman Catholic church of Madhu was in the line of fire.

The Tigers asked Norway's International Development Minister, Erik Solheim, who was also the top envoy involved in the failed peace efforts, to pressure Colombo to halt the offensive.

"We would like to place a request through you ... to the Norwegian government to take steps to immediately end the military assault of the holy Madhu shrine," the LTTE's political wing leader, B. Nadesan, wrote to Solheim.

Sri Lanka's military has denied engaging in operations in the Madhu church area, but security forces have maintained that they want to push into the Wanni region where the guerrillas
maintain a de facto mini state.

The church is located within Mannar district, which has seen heavy fighting in recent months.

The defence ministry said security forces killed 14 rebels in fresh fighting on Monday. The latest casualties raised the official rebel death toll this year to 2,714.

The number of security personnel killed during the same period was 156, according to the ministry.

No independent confirmation of the figures is available since journalists are barred from front-line areas. The Tigers have routinely rejected military claims of their casualties.

Fighting escalated after the Sri Lankan government in January pulled out of a 2002 truce arranged by Norway.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Sri Lanka's separatist conflict. The Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland since 1972. (AFP)