CLOMBO, April 10, (Reuter): The Sri Lankan government today announced a unilateral ceasefire starting tomorrow in its bloody war against Tamil guerrillas, raising hopes of a resumption of peace talks.

It was one of several measures announced by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali to pave the way for a peaceful solution to the ethnic crisis.

Athulathmudali said if the ceasefire held the government would also restore telephone links with the northern district of Jaffna and lift a fuel rationing scheme imposed there.

The government would also consider resuming train services to the northern Jaffna peninsula if sufficient security could be provided, the minister said.

He said the government would appoint a one-man commission to investigate and report on allegations that security forces had fired mortar bombs at the Jaffna hospital, killing nine persons and damaging two wards.

Athulathmudali told a news conference the security forces would unilaterally cease offensive action against rebels from noon tomorrow until 6:00 a.m. on April 20.

The minister, who is in charge of military operations against the guerrillas, urged them to follow suit. There was no immediate reaction from the Tamils.

Informed’ sources told Reuters the government had requested India to request the Tamil rebels to reciprocate the gesture by stopping attacks.

But the minister said the security forces would take defensive action if they were attacked.

He added that the ceasefire did not apply to sea operations as the government had information that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrilla group was planning to bring in arms by boat.

Athulathmudali said the ceasefire was designed to enable the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil people to celebrate peacefully their New Year which dawns on Monday.

“We are doing this also to support present peace efforts being conducted by the government of India”, he said.

The minister said the Sir Lankan High Commissioner (Ambassador) in New Delhi, bernard Tilakaratne, yesterday handed to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi a message from President Junius Jayewardene about a proposed peace plan. Athulathmudali described the note as positive but declined to disclose details.

India is mediating between Tamil leaders and the Colombo government to find a solution to the conflict which has cost more than 5,000 lives in the past four years.

The guerrillas are fighting government troops in the north and east to set up an independent homeland for Tamils in the Sinhalese dominated island.

Athulathmudali indicated that peace talks could resume if the rebels responded positively to the government’s overtures.

“If this optimistic scenario continues, by the end of that period (ceasefire) we will be engaged in useful negotiations,” he said.





Article extracted from this publication >>  April 17, 1987