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Tamil cease-fire branded a joke

THE Tamil Tigers declared a unilateral cease-fire yesterday but Sri Lanka dismissed it as a "joke" and said only a surrender would stop troops from finishing the last battle in Asia's longest modern war.

The Tigers' truce declaration came as the United Nations' humanitarian chief visited the Indian Ocean island to press for the protection of tens of thousands of people trapped in the apparent final battle of a war that started in 1983.

Sri Lanka's ruling party won a resounding victory in a provincial poll, seen as a referendum on President Mahinda Rajapaksa's war effort and another step to shoring up his power before possibly calling an early national election.

The Tigers have offered a cease-fire repeatedly as the military has pushed them to the brink of defeat but have refused international calls to free stranded civilians, who witnesses say are kept from leaving by deadly force.

Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother, laughed at the truce declaration.

"That is a joke. They were not fighting with us, they were running from us. There is no need of a cease-fire. They must surrender. That is it," he said.


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