LTTE appeals to arrange truce

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's cornered Tamil Tiger fighters appealed to Britain and France on Sunday to broker a truce to halt a government military offensive that threatens to wipe out the rebels.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a letter to the British and French foreign ministers, who visited Sri Lanka last week, that they wanted a ceasefire to end decades of conflict.

"We are ready to engage in the process to bring about a ceasefire and enter into negotiations for an enduring resolution to the conflict," the Tigers said in the letter, which was emailed to news organisations.

The rebels offered a truce last Sunday, but the Sri Lankan government promptly rejected it and vowed to fight on until the separatist guerrillas were completely defeated.

Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner left Sri Lanka on Thursday after urging the government to stop the fighting and allow humanitarian access to the conflict zone.

A special envoy sent by Japan, which is Sri Lanka's main foreign aid donor, wrapped up a three-day visit on Saturday by calling for civilians caught up in the violence to be protected.

Yasushi Akashi asked the remaining Tigers, who are holed up on the island's northeast coast, to allow tens of thousands of trapped civilians out of the conflict area.

The Japanese envoy also asked the government to improve conditions for more than 100,000 Tamil civilians held in state-run camps.