Sri Lanka pounds rebel positions after sniper attack

Sri Lanka’s navy rained mortar shells on Tamil rebel positions in the island’s restive east on Friday, after suspected snipers killed one sailor and injured another as sporadic attacks raise fears of renewed war.

The Tamil Tiger rebels said none of their fighters were killed by the mortars, but said they clashed with an army unit in their territory in the eastern district of Batticaloa, and that four soldiers and two Tigers were killed in a pre-dawn firefight.

The military said it knew nothing about such a clash with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Batticaloa, saying the sniper attack had taken place further north in the district of Trincomalee.

“The Tigers fired mortar shells at a navy camp in Trincomalee, so we retaliated [with mortars],” said navy spokesperson DKP Dassanayake. “LTTE snipers in the morning shot at two sailors. One died in hospital.”

The violence comes after suspected Tiger rebels shot dead three soldiers and a political rival in north-central Sri Lanka on Thursday.
The ambushes and military clashes have killed more than 700 people so far this year and strained a 2002 truce to breaking point.

Sri Lanka’s tortuous peace process is deadlocked and teetering on the verge of collapse. The government and rebels are sharply divided over the Tigers’ demands for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east.

However, the government insists it is still ready to talk peace with the Tigers despite a rash of deadly mine ambushes against the military.

In a rare exchange of goodwill, the Tigers said on Friday they would release a policeman they have detained since September 2005, when he entered their territory without permission to track down a suspected foreign paedophile.

Two fellow policemen were earlier released, one of them in a prisoner swap. The release of the third, due on Saturday, comes after President Mahinda Rajapakse allowed Tiger media coordinator Daya Master to be rushed to Colombo for treatment for a heart condition.

“Our national leader considered the humanitarian aspect of the issue and he wished to maintain humanitarian goodwill on both sides,” said Daya Mohan, head of the Tigers’ political wing in Batticaloa.

However many in the Sinhalese-majority south have little compassion for the Tigers after two decades of civil war that have killed more than 65 000 people on both sides.

Some want former professor and non-militant Daya Master arrested in his hospital bed—where he is closely guarded by armed police and not allowed to receive visitors.

Dozens of activists from the National Movement Against Terrorism protested at the gates of the top-end Apollo hospital in Colombo on Friday, decrying what they described as government pampering of terrorists.

“Why is the government protecting killers?” asked 32-year-old Roshan Chaminda, the movement’s secretary. “He is a terrorist organisation leader. They kill Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and anyone else against them.”

“He must immediately be taken into custody.”

The intensity of clashes between the Tigers and military has dropped over the past week, but many diplomats fear attacks on military top brass that nearly killed the army commander and killed one of his deputies could resume. - Reuters

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