Sri Lanka offers to hold talks with LTTE

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Colombo, Sept 23: Amid mounting international pressure, Sri Lanka today said it was prepared to halt the ongoing military campaign and hold talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels if the rebels were ready to resume talks, media reports here said.

Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who personally runs an aggressive military campaign against the LTTE told a Colombo-based English newspaper that the government forces would not press ahead with their military force if the Tamil Tiger rebels agree to talk.

''The decision (war or peace) is theirs and I believe they wouldn't reject this opportunity,'' the Defence Secretary, who is also the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was quoted as saying by the Sunday Island newspaper.''We'll not take advantage of the ground situation, if the Tigers agree to talk'', he added.

His remarks have come at a time when President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defence is set to visit New York to address the 62nd UN General Assembly commencing September 25.

Rajapaksa's remarks on war and peace came a couple of days after US Ambassador to Colombo, Robert Blake said at a function in Colombo that there cannot be any military solution to Sri Lanka's long-drawn ethnic conflict and that the US would always back a negotiated political settlement.

''The expulsion of the LTTE from the East and the recent sinking of several LTTE ships carrying arms and other provisions mark important military successes, but these tactical successes should not tempt the government to re-consider whether Sri Lanka's conflict can be won by military means. It cannot,'' Mr Blake said on Friday.

Notably, it was only on Monday Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said in Trincomalee that defeating the LTTE militarily was a pre-requisite to work out any political solution.

Claiming that no political solution to the long-drawn ethnic crisis would work without defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels militarily, Sri Lanka's top official said on Monday that the military was capable to accomplish that task.

Speaking at a function at the eastern Trincomalee naval base to celebrate the last week attack on three LTTE's gun-running vessels by the Sri Lankan navy, the Defence Secretary said no political solution would workout without defeating the rebels militarily.

Over 5,000 people have been killed and thousands displaced since December 2005 due to escalation of truce related violence in the North and the East.


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