Sri Lanka battles rebels at sea, troops ambushed

Sri Lanka’s navy clashed with Tamil Tiger rebels off the island’s north-west coast on Saturday, each claiming to have sunk the other’s vessels, while the military said a rebel ambush on land killed three soldiers.

The Navy said it sank three Tiger boats near the northern Mannar peninsula, while the rebels said they sank two navy boats and killed 10 sailors in the incident. Both sides claimed their vessels were still afloat and intact, and denied fatalities on their side.

As a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s two-decade civil war escalates, with more than 3 000 troops, civilians and rebels killed so far this year alone, it is often impossible to tell what has really happened in far-flung attacks, with each side contradicting the other.

Analysts suspect both sides exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said small navy inshore patrol craft engaged the Tiger vessels near sandbanks off the Mannar peninsula after detecting suspicious boat movements, and that helicopter gunships were called in to help. He said no navy boats were sunk.

“Three LTTE boats were sunk, and four navy sailors have gunshot injuries, but their craft are intact,” Samarasinghe said.”

Samarasinghe said three soldiers were killed in a separate incident and 15 civilians were wounded when suspected Tigers ambushed an army truck in the northern district of Vavuniya with a Claymore fragmentation mine.

Rebel version

The Tigers denied involvement, and said their ships were attacked by the navy as they were conducting naval exercises, and that their vessels won the confrontation.

“We sank two of their inshore patrol craft,” Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan told Reuters by telephone from the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.

“Our boats are very small, so any attempt by the air force to sink them will not be fruitful,” he added.
“Following the confrontation, our boats have continued with their sea exercises as planned.”

The attacks are the latest in a series of land and sea confrontations between the foes in the island’s two-decade civil war, which has killed more than 67 000 people since 1983.

Artillery and mortar bomb duels now occur near daily in the north and east, where the Tigers run a de facto state they want recognised as a separate homeland for minority Tamils. President Mahinda Rajapakse, who took power a year ago, flatly rules that out.—Reuters

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