Sri Lanka says offensive against rebels succeeding

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s government said on Thursday it was making gains in an offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels, as soldiers killed 16 rebels in fresh battles in the north.

Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella also rejected any possibility of a ceasefire or peace talks at this stage, saying this could only happen if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were to lay down arms unconditionally.

“Surely, definitely, positively we are moving forward and we will not turn at any point,” said Rambukwella, who is also minister for foreign employment and welfare.

“Nor we will accept any ceasefire, nor any peace negotiations unless they accept preconditions that have been laid down by the government,” he told a weekly defence briefing.

The government is pursuing a strategy to gradually retake the Tiger’s northern stronghold and win the 25-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

In the latest fighting on Wednesday, soldiers killed 16 rebels and wounded 64.

Last week the military said it had entered the northern district where the rebels’ de-facto capital is located.

The Tigers, fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka for ethnic Tamils, have made no comment.