September 2, 2006

Sri Lanka says sinks 12 Tiger boats

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's navy said on Saturday it
sank 12 Tamil Tiger craft in a pre-dawn naval battle off the
island's northern tip, killing dozens of guerrillas including
suicide fighters, but the rebels dismissed the claim.

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. A pro-rebel Web site
said two navy boats were sunk in the confrontation, but
officials laughed off the claim.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said eight of
their fighters were killed in the clash, but said none of their
boats were sunk.

"The Sri Lankan navy was disturbing fishermen along the
coastline, so we had to push them back," Tiger military
spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said by telephone from the
rebels' northern stronghold. "None of our boats sank. Only a
couple were damaged."

Analysts suspect both the rebels and the military are
playing down their own death tolls.

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 said 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.

Officials said air force fighter jets also bombed a Tiger
training camp in the rebels' northeastern heartland, but there
were no details of any casualties. Ilanthiraiyan said the bombs
had hit empty civilian houses and damaged a few trees.

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 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
Sarojini Rajadurai, a 38-year-old mother of three whose husband
was killed in a motorbike accident last year and who
supplements her widow's pension by renting out rooms to
university students.

"I feel there is a curse on the Tamil community -- and for
that matter on Sri Lanka," she added.

More than 20 lorries carrying government aid have been
allowed into rebel territory since Thursday.

The government is preparing to send a second shipment of
aid to Jaffna. A 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.

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.