May 17, 2009 / 6:14 PM / 10 years ago

Sri Lanka rebels willing to surrender arms: Norway

OSLO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels are willing to surrender their arms to a third party, after having conceded defeat in a 25-year civil war, former peace mediator Norway said Sunday.

“I have been in touch with the Tamil Tigers many times today,” Norway’s Development Aid Minister Erik Solheim told Reuters. “They have made it clear to us that they are ready to give up arms to the international community.”

Earlier Sunday, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conceded they had lost the war, after putting up heavy resistance to a final assault by government troops.

The LTTE resisted earlier diplomatic pressure to lay down its weapons until it had little other choice. Sri Lanka’s government had already ruled out surrender via a third party.

The military says it is fighting sporadic battles to wipe out the handful of LTTE fighters remaining in less than 1 square km (0.5 sq mile) area.

“The main issue now is to get access to this area for independent verification and for evacuation of the wounded,” Solheim said. “There may be many wounded.”

Solheim said he could provide no new information on the fate of LTTE founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran. Military sources said a body believed to be his was recovered and its identity was being confirmed.

He said other LTTE leaders were alive and leading the fight.

Sri Lanka said it no longer recognized Norway as mediator in a moribund peace process, after LTTE supporters ransacked the Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo in April.

Editing by Bryson Hull and Ralph Boulton

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