Article published on the 2009-04-26 Latest update 2009-04-27 08:23 TU
An ethnic Tamil demonstrator holds a banner during a protest against Sri Lanka government in central Sydney on Sunday
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said their military activities would cease with "immediate effect", but a spokesman for the group said the ceasefire would be maintained only if the government reciprocated.
The UN humanitarian chief John Holmes had earlier on Sunday called on Sri Lanka to halt its offensive against the Tigers to allow aid workers to help civilians who are trapped in the war zone in the north of the island.
The UN says that up to 50,000 civilians are trapped in a strip of jungle.
Holmes is on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka and met Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe on Sunday. Holmes says he will inspect the camps where 100,000 Tamil civilians have been since their escaping the warzone.
Samarasinghe said fighting would have to stop for a day or two to allow two UN staff to access the region, a request that he said he agreed to "in principle".
Gotabhaya Rajapakse told RFI on Sunday that this was not an opportunity, "this is a trick by the LTTE. Why should we go for a ceasefire?".
He said responsibility for saving civilian lives was with the LTTE.
"The main thing is to release the civilians and lay down their arms and surrender because they are militarily defeated, they are cornered," he said, adding that "outsiders don't understand this problem, how much we have suffered because of LTTE".
He said the government had an "opportunity to end this conflict".
"We will stop this and then think about other things," he said, claiming that army forces had rescued thousands of civilians from the combat zone in the past few days, "today I think it's more than 2,000"
In Australia hundreds of protesters marched through central Sydney on Sunday, calling for a boycott of Sri Lankan goods.
The group burned Sri Lankan-produced tea and clothes and demanded that the Australian government put pressure on Sri Lanka's government.
Correspondent Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo says "the tigers were timing their offer at a time when the UN humanitarian chief was in Sri Lanka because the UN itself has been asking both sides to make sure that there is some sort of a pause in fighting."
He says the government feels it has "the advantage of the military momentum and they want to capitalise on that".
"The government agrees that there is a humanitarian crisis," he says, "but the difference is that the government is blaming it on the Tamil Tigers".
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