updated 5/3/2009 12:05:20 PM ET 2009-05-03T16:05:20

Sri Lanka's government said Sunday 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 recent United Nations report said about 6,500 civilians were killed in the area during the past three months.

Government has rejected cease-fire calls
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.

Gandhi was blown up by a suspected Tamil Tiger female suicide bomber at an election rally in southern India in apparent revenge for sending a peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka in 1987.

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

Rebel leaders have vowed no surrender
Tamil Tiger leaders have vowed no surrender. Every fighter is meant to wear a cyanide capsule and swears an oath to swallow the capsule to avoid capture.

But the government says a number of rebels have already surrendered including the group's former media spokesman and an interpreter for its political wing.

The Tamil Tigers' political head, Balasingham Nadesan, wrote Saturday to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, saying the insurgents are ready to "engage in the process to bring about a cease-fire and enter into negotiations for an enduring resolution to the conflict."

Excerpts of Nadesan's letter were e-mailed to news organizations.

Miliband and Kouchner visited Sri Lanka last week to press for a truce, but the government refused to let up its offensive.

Fighting continued Sunday. The military said it captured a 500-yard (meter) -long earth fortification erected by the rebels to slow the army's advance.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebels were now confined to just a 2.8-mile (4.5-kilometer) coastal stretch. He did not give casualty details from the battle.

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

Pressure for a cease-fire is likely to grow
International pressure for a cease-fire is likely to grow after a pro-rebel Web site reported Saturday that government forces shelled a makeshift hospital in the war zone, killing 64 patients and bystanders.

A government doctor working there confirmed the death toll but declined to say who was responsible for the attack.

The government, which has promised not to use heavy weapons in the densely packed conflict zone, denied the report.

The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

The rebel group is banned by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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