- civil war - Sri Lanka - Tamil Tigers
AFP- Sri Lanka's president on Sunday ordered government troops to halt their offensive against cornered Tamil rebels over the two-day Sinhala and Tamil New Year that starts on Monday.
Mahinda Rajapakse's office said in a statement that the move would allow thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the fighting to celebrate the New Year.
"With this objective in view, His Excellency has directed the armed forces of the state to restrict their operations during the New Year to those of a defensive nature," the statement said.
It reiterated a call to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to lay down arms and surrender to security forces who have pushed the guerrillas into a narrow strip of coastal jungle in the island's northeast.
"In the true spirit of the season, it is timely for the LTTE to acknowledge its military defeat," the statement said. "The LTTE must also renounce terrorism and violence permanently."
There was no immediate reaction from the Tigers, who reject charges that they are holding tens of thousands of Tamil civilians as a human shield.
"The President is deeply conscious of the need to give the civilian population entrapped as hostages by the ruthless actions of the LTTE the opportunity to celebrate these festivities," the statement said.
The brief ceasefire is also aimed at allowing more civilians to escape from the remaining rebel-held territory and seek shelter in a government-controlled area, officials added.
Rajapakse has insisted that the troops would push on until they have secured the complete surrender of the Tigers, whose decades-long armed campaign for an independent Tamil homeland appears almost over.
Sri Lanka's military stepped up attacks against the Tigers after withdrawing from a Norwegian-arranged truce in January last year.
The guerrillas, who at the height of their power controlled about a third of the country, have now been confined to an area less than 20 square kilometres (eight square miles), according to the military.