Lanka troops attack Tamil Tiger targets (Sri Lanka)
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's navy and air force hit Tamil Tiger targets on land and sea in the island's northwest yesterday, officials said, while a policeman died in a fragmentation mine attack, further straining a battered 2002 ceasefire.
More than 200 people have died in violence over the past month, raising fears a two decade civil war between government forces and the rebels might resume in full force.
Both sides say they want talks, but until thorny logistical issues are solved, most analysts expect violence to worsen.
Naval sources said patrol boats were fired on by apparent Sea Tiger craft off the coast of northwestern Mannar district. The navy returned fire and a suspected Tiger suicide boat exploded.
The air force said the navy then called in a Russian-built Hind attack helicopter after taking fire from the shore.
"It was a vehicle mounted with a heavy gun," said air force spokesman Group Captain Ajantha de Silva. "It was firing on the navy. Our pilots took out the exact target."
Earlier, the government peace secretariat said they believed the air force had sunk a second Sea Tiger boat, but the air force said they had not attacked any ships.
The air attack was the first of its kind in more than a week. The government launched two days of strikes on rebel positions in the northeast last week after a suicide attack on army headquarters in Colombo.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, whose fight for a Tamil homeland has killed more than 64,000 on both sides, had threatened to retaliate if there were any new attacks on them. They said they had no immediate comment on the incident.
The military said it had suffered no casualties in the Mannar incident, but one policeman was killed and seven wounded in suspected rebel claymore fragmentation mine and grenade attacks in the northern towns of Jaffna and Vavuniya.
The government says it still hopes talks can take place with the rebels next week in Geneva, but the rebels pulled out of talks indefinitely last month and the two sides cannot even agree the transport of eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting.
The rebels say their latest complaint involves the road transport of eastern leaders to a seaplane that will then take them to their northern headquarters. They have turned down every transport offer made by the government, which itself refuses to give in to rebel demands that a military helicopter be used.
Some analysts say neither side really wants to meet, and that hardliners on both sides are keen to prompt a confrontation and return to war.
President Mahinda Rajapakse has repeatedly ruled out Tiger demands for an ethnic Tamil homeland in the island's north and east. Analysts say violence is widening ethnic divisions.
In the Tamil-dominated north, few dare walk the streets after recent violence. Each side accuses the other of murders, attacks and assassinations, and few hold out much hope of peace even if talks take place on May 10 as the government hopes.
"No one is safe," said 50-year-old Tamil audit firm manager Silvarajah Rajanayagam, one of the few still willing to walk the war-battered streets of Jaffna, cut off from the rest of the island by rebel lines.
"Yesterday we had nine or ten killings. Whether it is civilians or the army, it is all human life." - Reuters
Von: 6.5.2006 Gulf Times