(Adds government comments and byline )
By Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO, July 22 Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels said on Tuesday they will hold a unilateral ceasefire with the military in support of a regional summit but government officials were skeptical of the gesture.
A rebel statement said the Tigers would refrain from military action during the 15th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference but warned they would be forced to take "defensive action" if the island's military carried out any offensives against them.
"As a sign of this goodwill, our movement is glad to inform that it will observe a unilateral ceasefire that is devoid of military actions during the period of the SAARC conference from 26th July to 4th August and give our cooperation for the success of the conference," the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in an e-mailed statement.
The government said it had not received an official ceasefire notification from the rebels and expressed wariness about the move.
"You have to look at it historically, there has been a tendency to have a ceasefire in order to build up their strength," said Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process.
"While of course the government is delighted if the LTTE give up terrorism and want to move towards talks towards sustainable peace, we haven't had any experience in the past," he said.
Sri Lanka's military declined comment on the ceasefire and the future of ongoing operations against Tamil Tiger rebels.
The rebel gesture came as government forces continue their push against the rebels' northern stronghold in the 25-year civil war with a barrage of almost-daily air, sea and land attacks.
The conflict is now concentrated in the north after the Sri Lankan army, which has vowed to finish off the Tigers this year, drove the rebels from their eastern enclave in 2007.
Sri Lanka's 2002 Norwegian-backed ceasefire pact with the Tamil Tigers formally ended in January after the government decided to scrap it, arguing that the rebels were using it to buy time to regroup and rearm.
The civil war has killed more than 70,000 people since it started. The Tigers have been fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka for minority Tamils since 1983.
Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island's east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.
Sri Lanka hosts the 15th summit of the eight nation, SAAEC which groups Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka later this month. (Editing by Valerie Lee)
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