November 9, 2008 / 1:02 PM / 11 years ago

Raids follow latest truce call by Sri Lanka rebels

COLOMBO, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s air force bombed Tamil Tiger artillery and command positions on Sunday, a day after the separatist guerrillas reiterated a call for a ceasefire the government has long said is insincere.

Jets struck near Paranthan and Poonaryn, the latter of which is a strategic Tiger stronghold from which it fires heavy weapons to keep the army from coming down the neck of the northern Jaffna Peninsula toward Kilinochchi.

“Jets engaged a Sea Tiger command centre a kilometre west of Paranthan junction and an artillery position 6 km (4 miles) southeast of Poonaryn,” Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanyakkara said.

He had no details on casualties but said the targets were accurately engaged. Helicopters on Saturday struck a base used by Sea Tiger naval units on Palaitivu island, 12 km (7 miles) west of Poonaryn, the military said.

On Saturday, the pro-rebel website quoted the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) political head as saying the group still wanted a ceasefire to the 25-year war, one of Asia’s longest insurgencies.

“There is no hesitation on our side to reiterate our position that we have always wanted a ceasefire,” TamilNet quoted LTTE political chief B. Nadesan as saying.

The rebels have repeatedly said they want a ceasefire, and have accused the government of throwing out a 2002 truce.

In January, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government pulled out of the pact, which both sides had all but ignored since 2006, and said the LTTE had only used it to re-arm.

Rajapaksa this week said the LTTE must lay down its weapons before any negotiations can begin.

A ceasefire would be to the Tigers’ benefit now, with the military surging forward on multiple fronts toward the rebels’ administrative headquarters of Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka, about 330 km (205 miles) north of the capital Colombo.

The military has all but cut off access to the war zone for journalists, so it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening at the front.

Last month, the military stopped giving casualty figures, which most had disregarded because both sides regularly distorted them. Most analysts agree the military has steadily seized Tiger-held territory.

The Tigers since 1983 have fought the government to establish a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, which has complained of marginalisation by successive governments led by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948.

Rajapaksa’s government is increasingly confident it can militarily defeat the Tigers, which are on U.S, E.U. and Indian terrorism lists after decades of suicide bombings and assassinations to eliminate enemies including moderate Tamils. (Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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