Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sri Lanka Bombs Rebel Bases Before Leader's Address

Sri Lanka attacked command posts of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam before today's annual policy speech by the rebel leader on a year of fighting that saw the group driven from the east and the death of its political chief.

The air force raided two ``high profile'' LTTE hideouts in the north yesterday, one of them near the rebel headquarters at Kilinochchi, the Defense Ministry said. Jets bombed two ``densely populated'' areas, injuring one civilian, TamilNet reported on its Web site.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, is scheduled to give his annual statement later today. The death of S.P. Thamilchelvan, the head of the political wing, in a Nov. 2 air raid increased the group's resolve to achieve a separate homeland, he said at the time.

The Tamil Tigers, designated a terrorist group by the U.S., the European Union and India, are holding areas of northern Sri Lanka after the army won control of Eastern Province in July. The group has been fighting for 24 years in a conflict that has resulted in more than 70,000 deaths.

The military has increased operations against the Tamil Tigers in the north since July, attacking bases of the rebel naval unit known as the Sea Tigers.

Leaders Targeted

``We are after'' Prabhakaran, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said in an interview with Agence France-Presse in the capital, Colombo, yesterday. ``We are specifically targeting their leadership.''

Tamil Tiger leaders are being restricted in their movements from their jungle bases, he said.

``The killing of Thamilchelvan sent a very powerful message,'' the defense secretary said. ``They know we have good intelligence on their movements.''

The LTTE has to be defeated militarily, he added. ``Then a political solution becomes possible.''

Air force jets two days ago raided a satellite communications center near Kilinochchi, reducing the rebels' intelligence gathering capability, the Defense Ministry said.

Four civilians were killed when bombs hit a settlement, TamilNet reported on its Web site Nov. 25. Yesterday's air raid damaged 13 houses in Jayanthinakar, a suburb of Kilinochchi, and in Puthukkudiyiruppu, it said.

Rebels killed four villagers in an attack at Mahawilachchiya in the north yesterday, the Defense Ministry said on its Web site. Seven people were injured, five of them children, when rebel artillery shells hit a school near Mannar in the northwest, it said.

Indian Navy

The LTTE has changed its arms smuggling operations after India's navy increased patrols off the coast of the southern state of Tamil Nadu that lies about a two-hour boat ride across the waters from Sri Lanka, India's state-run broadcaster Doordarshan reported.

The group is moving its operations to Kerala on India's southwestern coast, Doordarshan cited Vice Admiral Sunil Damle, who heads India's Southern Naval Command, as saying yesterday.

Navy patrols that began earlier this year have made Tamil Nadu's coast virtually impenetrable, Damle said.

An estimated 60,000 Sri Lankans live in camps in Tamil Nadu after fleeing fighting.

Political Settlement

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his budget speech to Parliament Nov. 7, vowed to ``eradicate'' terrorism from the South Asian island.

The Tamil Tigers have ``demonstrated that they will never be ready to surrender arms and agree to a democratic political settlement,'' he said.

Rajapaksa's government rejects any peace proposal that envisages the division of the country while saying it is prepared to devolve some power to the regions.

Fighting between the army and the LTTE intensified last year as two attempts at peace talks in Geneva failed. The LTTE has an estimated 12,000 fighters and 4,000 Sea Tigers.

Tamils made up 11.9 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million people in 2001, the government's Census and Statistics Department said. Sinhalese made up almost 74 percent of the population.

No comments: