September 2, 2006

Tamil Tiger boats said sunk in naval clash

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's navy sank 12 Tamil Tiger
craft overnight in a naval battle off the island's northern tip
and dozens of rebels, including suicide fighters, are believed
to have been killed, the military said on Saturday.

The clash at sea near the besieged army-held Jaffna
peninsula comes amid five weeks of intense fighting after four
years of ceasefire, and as the army seeks to wrest control of
rebel territory near a strategic port in the island's

"It was a major attack. There were 20 rebel boats. We were
able to destroy 12 LTTE craft, including five LTTE suicide
boats," a military spokesman told Reuters. "They were
humiliated in their so-called seas and withdrew."

He said he believed at least 75 Tigers had been killed, but
there was no independent confirmation. The Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not immediately available for comment.

The military spokesman said two sailors were injured and
two navy fast-attack boats were slightly damaged by gunfire in
the battle, which raged through the night and into the early
hours of Saturday.

He believed the Tiger flotilla had been seeking to attack a
northern naval base at Kankasanturai (KKS) on the Jaffna
peninsula, which is cut off from the rest of the island by
rebel lines and where there are severe food shortages.

"I feel like they were doing something to disrupt KKS to
damage supply lines to the north," he said.

The army is trying to take the Tiger-held town of Sampur,
where the rebels are in artillery range of a major naval base
in the northeastern harbor of Trincomalee and able to disrupt a
key maritime supply route to Jaffna.

Fourteen soldiers have been killed and 92 wounded since
that offensive began on Sunday. The army estimates around 120
rebels were killed. The Tigers were not immediately reachable.

The military said Jaffna itself was quiet after days of
artillery battles, and residents -- thousands of whom want to
evacuate to Colombo after weeks being trapped in the enclave --
were hopeful civilian flights would soon resume to the capital.


Airline Aerolanka said 5,000 people in Jaffna had asked for
seats on flights. Other residents are just trying to get by.

"It looks as though this is a never-ending war," said
mother-of-three Sarojini Rajadurai, 38, whose husband was
killed in a motorbike accident last year and supplements her
widow's pension by renting out rooms in her house to university

"I feel there is a curse on the Tamil community -- and for
that matter on Sri Lanka," she added. "We face food shortages,
military roundups, fighting..."

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, voiced concern at the
abduction of another Tamil media worker just days after a Tamil
journalist was kidnapped and later released. Several Tamil
journalists have been killed so far this year.

The government is preparing to send a second shipment of
food aid and emergency supplies to Jaffna. The vessel is
expected to sail on Sunday.

But humanitarian workers say the government is hampering
the delivery of supplies, such as medicines, to rebel areas.

"We are being denied proper access to LTTE areas by the
security forces and the government," said one aid worker.

Diplomats see little real effort by either side to
de-escalate the violence, and while the 2002 truce still
technically holds on paper, they expect a war that has killed
more than 65,000 people since 1983 to rumble on.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has flatly ruled out the
Tigers' demands for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in
the north and east, and the Tigers vow to continue their
struggle until they achieve it.