Sri Lankan rebels said Monday that a new round of peace talks on ending the country's 25-year-old civil war is impossible as long as the government presses ahead with a military offensive.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said earlier this month he was prepared to restart long-dormant talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels if the group lays down its arms and ceases bombings and other attacks across the country.
Balasingham Nadesan, the head of the rebels' political wing, said Rajapaksa's conditions were "naive" and "impractical" and there was no way the two sides could negotiate while the fighting continued to rage.
"It is impossible to hold peace talks when one party, the government of Sri Lanka, is undertaking large-scale military offensives," he told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi in the north.
Rebels will observe cease-fire
While they rejected the peace talks, the rebels declared they would observe a cease-fire from July 26 until Aug. 4, saying in a statement the gesture was a sign of goodwill to other countries in the region. However, if the government attacks, the rebels will respond, the statement said.
Presidential spokesman Lucien Rajakarunanayake said the military would end the offensive if the rebels disarmed.
"The government offensive is to eradicate terrorism from the country. If there are signs terrorism is not functioning, then there is no problem," he said.
The government has claimed a series of military victories in recent days against the rebels. Troops seized an important coastal base used by the rebels' naval wing last Wednesday and pushed deeper into the north Sunday, taking control of a rebel base in the village of Illupakadavai.
However, Nadesan said he did not consider the offensive a threat to the rebels' fight for an independent homeland for the country's ethnic Tamil minority.
"We have always used many different tactics and strategies to deal with such offensives," he wrote. "We have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to convert the Sri Lankan government offensives into our favor."
Tamil rebels fighting since 1983
The Tamil rebels have been fighting for an independent state in the nation's north and east since 1983, following decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
A 2002 Norwegian-brokered cease-fire broke down 2 1/2 years ago amid new fighting. The government seized control of the Eastern Province from the rebels last July.
In January, it officially pulled out of the cease-fire and expelled Nordic truce monitors.
Nadesan said recent fighting had displaced about 150,000 people in rebel-held territory. Many of the recently displaced people lack adequate food, shelter and clean water, he said.
Human rights workers have privately accused the government of preventing the movement of some essential items, including cement and gasoline, into rebel-held territory.
Rajakarunanayake denied that accusation.
"That is totally incorrect," he said.
Nadesan, former head of the rebels' police force, was made the Tamil Tigers' political chief after his predecessor, S.P. Tamilselvan, was killed in an airstrike last year.
The group has been responsible for hundreds of bombings and other attacks on civilian and military targets throughout the country. It is listed as a terror group by the United States, EU and India.
When asked if the rebels remained committed to attacks inside government-held territory, Nadesan said they had not changed their position.
"Our forces will undertake any military actions that are needed to evict the occupying Sri Lankan armed forces from our homeland," he said.