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Sri Lankan Government Spurns Cease-Fire Offer from Separatists

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- KATMANDU

Sri Lanka’s leaders spurned a cease-fire offer Monday that would have allowed them to evacuate thousands of government troops under siege by separatist guerrillas on the Indian Ocean island.

The rejection came hours after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are battling for a separate homeland, proposed a halt in the fighting to allow Sri Lankan troops to retreat from the city of Jaffna with “dignity and honor.”

In a televised address to the nation, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga vowed to hold on to Jaffna, the center of the country’s Tamil minority.

“We will not allow the (half a million) Tamil people in Jaffna to fall into the hands of the fascist rule of the LTTE,” Kumaratunga said.

The Sri Lankan government’s rejection of the cease-fire seemed to ensure a bloody fight for Jaffna, where some 40,000 government troops are under attack by Tiger guerrillas. The battle for Jaffna began two weeks ago, when the Tigers overran government positions at the entrance to the Jaffna peninsula. The city sits at the northern tip of the island and is surrounded on three sides by water.

The fight for the city is shaping up to be a pivotal battle in the nation’s 17-year civil war, which pits the majority Sinhalese Buddhists against the predominantly Hindu Tamils. A victory by the Tigers would represent a huge step toward their goal of forming an independent state for the Tamil people.

Israel Divided Over Ceremonial Honors for Soldiers, Terror Victims

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- JERUSALEM

When Israel honors the dead Tuesday, there will be two ceremonies. In one, soldiers who were killed in Israel’s wars will be remembered. In the other, two hours later, homage will be paid to people who died in terrorist attacks. Keeping the two ceremonies separate has been the source of bitter recrimination, legal wrangling and a discomfiting debate over the nature of heroism and sacrifice.

Israel’s identity is in many ways shaped by the battles it has waged to ensure its existence, so honoring the soldiers who gave their lives makes Memorial Day a solemn occasion for Israelis. But in the last couple of years, there have been informal attempts to include terrorism victims in Memorial Day ceremonies. In March, the government voted unanimously to include such victims officially in this year’s national commemoration on Mount Herzl.

That has not sat well with some families. An association of war widows and orphans went to court last week to bar terrorism victims from the ceremony that will honor the fallen fighters.