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Tamil Tigers may get amnesty

SRI Lanka's government said yesterday it is considering an amnesty for Tamil Tiger rebels who surrender - although not for leaders of the insurgency, which is facing defeat after 25 years of civil war.

The rebels, meanwhile, asked Britain and France to keep pushing for a cease-fire after the European nations' recent failure to secure a halt in the fighting to allow civilians to evacuate the war zone.

An estimated 50,000 noncombatants are trapped in a tiny coastal strip along with the cornered rebels in the island's northeast. A United Nations report said about 6,500 civilians were killed in the area in the past three months.

The government has rejected the cease-fire calls, saying it is on the verge of victory.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said officials from the attorney general's department are studying the legal basis for a possible pardon for rebels who surrender but a final decision has not been made.

He said any such offer would not be open to rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and others convicted in Sri Lanka for various attacks or wanted in neighboring India for the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

"The leadership will be dealt with under the laws of the country," Samarasinghe said.

Samarasinghe said the government also plans to offer vocational training for surrendering rebels to help them reintegrate into society.

Tamil Tiger leaders have vowed no surrender. But the government said a number of rebels have already surrendered including the group's former media spokesman and an interpreter.

Fighting continued yesterday. The military said it captured an earth fortification erected by the rebels to slow the army's advance. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebels are now confined to a 4.5-kilometer coastal stretch.

The government said the rebels are using civilians as human shields in their final stand.


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