Mon, Jan 09, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tamil rebels accuse Sri Lankan navy of blockading fishing

AP , COLOMBO

The Tamil Tiger rebels accused the Sri Lankan navy yesterday of barring Tamil fishermen from going to the sea, a day after suspected insurgents rammed a fishing boat packed with explosives into a navy vessel, killing 13 sailors.

"The Sri Lankan navy has banned fishing for Tamil fisherman in most sections of the north seas" off the Jaffna Peninsula, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said on their Web site.

The blockade forced about 1,000 families to move to rebel-held areas and was reminiscent of the navy's tactics before the government and the Tigers signed a truce four years ago to halt the island's civil war, it said.

Navy officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

The government has blamed the rebels for Saturday's attack on the navy vessel off the northeastern coast, the most serious of recent attacks that has put the truce of the verge of collapse.

"The incident has brought the ceasefire under pressure like never before," said Hagrup Haukland, chief of the Norwegian-led monitoring mission that oversees the Oslo-brokered 2002 truce.

"The question is how long the Sri Lankan security forces can take it," he said on Saturday.

The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.2 million ethnic minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the island's 14 million Sinhalese. The war claimed 65,000 lives.

Saturday's attack killed 13 sailors and brought the death toll of security forces to 58 since Dec. 4, when a wave of anti-government attacks began. Authorities have blamed the Tigers, who have denied responsibility.

A similar 1995 attack in Trincomalee harbor shattered a brief truce between the two sides.

Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said the two survivors told investigators the attacking boat emerged from a fleet of fishing boats.

"They say that the attacking craft emerged and collided with their vessel, triggering a huge explosion." Samarasinghe said.

Navy divers searched for a second day yesterday but have so far found no trace of the sunken vessel, military and European ceasefire monitors said.

Erik Solheim, the Norwegian official who brokered the Feb. 2002 ceasefire, was scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in late January to try restarting government-rebels peace talks.

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