Tamil rebels warned yesterday they will attack Sri Lankan navy vessels that approach coastal areas under their control, a day after they sank a patrol boat in a sea battle that killed dozens and pushed the country closer to all-out war.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, also issued a final warning to European ceasefire monitors not to board such vessels.
The warning, posted on the rebels' Web site, followed an attack on a navy patrol boat in northern Sri Lanka that left about 50 insurgents and 17 sailors dead or missing in a sharp escalation of violence.
The Sri Lankan navy's activities off the coast of Tamil Tiger-held areas are "disrupting the fishing activities of the people. [They are] also disturbing the LTTE exercises," the rebels said in a letter to the monitors.
"If [the] Sri Lankan navy disrupts our activities we will definitely retaliate," it said.
Accusing the navy of using the monitors as "as human shields in order to continue with these disruptions," the rebels issued a stark warning to the monitors.
"We urge you for the last time not to be on board Sri Lankan naval vessels until further notice from us. If you chose to ignore our warning and request, we are not responsible for the consequences," the rebels said.
Earlier, both the government and the monitors accused the Tigers of violating the country's 2002 ceasefire accord with their attack that sank a navy patrol boat off the northern coast on Thursday.
Government troops retaliated, sinking five rebel boats, damaging three others and launching airstrikes on guerrilla-held territory, putting the severest strain yet on the 2002 accord between the Tigers and government that halted two decades of warfare.
"This is a very serious attack [by the Tigers], a blatant violation of the ceasefire agreement," government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters.