/ 26 April 2006

Sri Lankan air force pounds Tamil Tigers

Sri Lanka’s air force resumed retaliatory strikes against Tamil Tiger positions on Wednesday, police said amid fears that the country was sliding back to full-scale war after a four-year truce.

Air attacks were carried out in the northeastern district of Trincomalee where the military bombed a cluster of boats of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Tuesday night, a police official in the area said.

Israeli-built Kfir jets and Ukranian MiG-27 aircraft carried out sorties on Wednesday after an overnight bombardment that involved multi-barrel rocket launchers, artillery and naval fire from gunboats, the military said.

“The air attacks resumed this morning after a break overnight,” a police official in Trincomalee said.

At least one civilian was killed and nine others were wounded when one jet missed its intended target and hit a jetty, the military said.

Tamil Tiger rebels protested the bombings as a violation of their Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement and asked truce monitors if Colombo had declared full-scale war, the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said.

The LTTE’s Trincomalee district leader S Elilan late on Tuesday asked the Swedish-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to “clarify” whether the military has launched a “full-scale war violating the ceasefire agreement”.

It said there had been “severe damage” to life and property in rebel-held areas, but gave no further details.

The military on Tuesday night said it was acting in self defence and carried out the bombings in Trincomalee after the guerrillas shelled military positions in the region.

The air assault followed Tuesday’s suicide bombing of the army chief’s motorcade in Colombo leaving lieutenant general Sarath Fonseka badly wounded and 10 others dead.

The United States led international condemnation of the attack which was blamed on a “Black Tiger” female suicide bomber who had pretended to be pregnant.

“It’s regrettable that the Tamil Tigers have decided to restart the war instead of restarting the peace process,” United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said in Washington.

“We are in touch with governments around the world to bring to bear whatever pressure we can on the Tamil Tigers to abandon this course of action.”

The suicide attack in Colombo put intense pressure on a shaky four-year ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and the rebels which was already close to collapse.

At least 80 people have been killed in bombings in the past two weeks alone while Tamil rebels say 70 civilians have been killed by pro-government militia or security forces, a charge denied by the military.

Last week the Tamil Tigers indefinitely pulled out of scheduled peace talks in Switzerland, accusing the government of attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and complaining about the transport arrangements for internal rebel meetings.

“This attack is yet another serious blow to the ceasefire agreement and the peace process,” the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a statement issued before the government launched retaliatory strikes.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse made a televised address to the nation after the Colombo bombing in which he vowed to stand up to terrorism.

However despite the retaliatory strikes, the government also insisted it remained committed to the Norwegian-brokered peace process and expected the rebels to return to talks aimed at ending three decades of civil war.

The Tigers are fighting for a homeland for the Tamil minority in the north-east of Sri Lanka, parts of which already fall under the de facto control of the guerrilla group.

Tuesday’s suicide bombing was the biggest attack blamed on the rebels since they entered into a truce with the government in February 2002 and the first in Colombo since July 2004. – AFP