Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sri Lankan military says it sank 3 Tamil Tiger boats in lengthy sea battle

Naval attack craft waged a three-hour sea battle with 20 Tamil Tiger boats off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka on Friday, sinking three of the rebels' vessels and killing one of their top naval commanders, the military said.

The battle, which also killed one navy sailor, came as fighting between the two sides near the Tamil Tigers' de facto state in northern Sri Lanka has escalated in recent days, leaving more than 60 rebels dead, according to the military.

The details of the clash could not be independently confirmed and rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment.

The naval battle began about 11 p.m. Thursday as 20 boats from the rebels' navy, known as the Sea Tigers, headed toward Pulmoddai, about 25 miles north of the eastern city of Trincomalee, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The rebel boats were apparently trying to stage a mass evacuation of rebel fighters who were trapped in nearby jungles after a government offensive earlier this year recaptured the east from the Tamil Tigers, the official said.

Naval attack craft cut off the rebel boats, sparking a lengthy sea battle that led to the sinking of three rebel vessels, the official said. Military intelligence said it had intercepted rebel reports indicating that a top rebel officer, Lt. Col. Nishan Than, was among those killed, the official said.

One Sri Lankan sailor was also killed in the battle and another was injured, the official said.

Fighting along the front lines separating government-controlled territory and the rebels' ministate in the north has increased in recent days, with the military saying Thursday that 25 rebels, three civilians and one soldier had been killed in two days of fighting across the area.

The casualties could not be independently confirmed, but the rebels said the military was exaggerating their death toll.

The two sides have been fighting for more than two decades, with the Tigers demanding an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the northeast and the government, dominated by the Sinhalese majority, insisting that the country remain unified under a strong central government.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting, 5,000 of them since a 2002 cease-fire broke down nearly two years ago.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.


No comments: