Colombo rejects LTTE's truce offer

COLOMBO, MAY 8. Breaking a week of silence, the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam today offered a temporary truce to the Sri Lankan Government to facilitate the ``safe evacuation'' of its troops from the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The offer was promptly rejected by the Government, which said there was no question of a pull-out from the peninsula.

Coming as it did at a time when there is considerable international attention on the military situation in the island's northern region, the LTTE offer was described by a source in the Government as one of ``psychological operations'' and that ``there is no question of an Army pull-out from the northern Peninsula''.

The offer, observers say, would place the Government under pressure from the southern majority as it promised a safe passage to an estimated 25,000 troops from the embattled peninsula. According to the offer, a positive response from the Government would ``create cordial conditions for a permanent cease-fire, peace talks and a negotiated settlement''.

The Tigers also said the Government would have to bear responsibility for ``heavy military casualties'' if the offer was rejected.

In its reaction, the opposition United National Party said the Government could have made a ``counter offer'' rather than reject the call altogether. The UNP, which has been calling for cessation of hostilities and the commencement of a de- escalation process, felt the offer could have been met with a suitable proposal for de-escalation. Political observers, who have been calling for a cessation of hostilities, feel the offer would have been more productive, if it was made by a third party ``facilitator or mediator''.

UNP hails Indian stand

With the necessity of an external player being felt increasing in political circles, the UNP also welcomed the Indian position on the conflict and the reported statement of the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, that India was willing to negotiate a settlement, if invited by both parties. The Indian position was welcome ``in the present crisis when a military solution is not possible'', the Opposition leader, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, told reporters. He called upon the Government to respond to the Indian invitation.

The party felt the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord could remain the ``starting point'' for New Delhi's involvement.

Tipnis meets Chandrika

Meanwhile, India's Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal A. Y. Tipnis, today called on the Sri Lankan President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, and ``discussed mutual interests''. Air Chief Marshal Tipnis, on a six-day goodwill mission, is scheduled to visit the country's airbases.