Fri, Aug 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Sri Lanka strikes at Tiger base

NO END IN SIGHT The air strikes came as the government said it would only consider a ceasefire if it was offered by Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran

AP , COLOMBO

Sri Lanka's air force launched strikes on a Tamil Tiger rebel sea base in the northeast yesterday in an operation the military described as "successful." There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The strike on the base in Mullaitivu came as the government said it would consider a new ceasefire with the rebels only if it was offered by the insurgents' elusive leader, Prabhakaran.

"The government's position is very clear: There has to be a meaningful and effective cease-fire. Once it is put in writing by the [Tiger] leader Prabhakaran, then the government will consider it," government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Rebel spokesman Daya Master said air force planes flew over rebel-held territory in the northeast yesterday morning.

"But so far I have not received information about an attack and where it has bombed," he said.

A recent escalation of violence between government forces and the insurgents has returned Sri Lanka to a war footing, with some of the fiercest fighting since the two sides signed a ceasefire four years ago.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told parliament during a debate on the conflict on Wednesday that since then, other rebel leaders have broken promises to end the violence.

Rambukwella, the government spokesman, said any new ceasefire agreement would need to have clear conditions written into it, such as restricting the Tigers' access to the sea.

"We have areas that are very vulnerable and we cannot have them pounding our naval headquarters in eastern Trincomalee," he said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe earlier said there were no major incidents overnight in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, which the insurgents made a major push to recapture on Aug. 11.

In the east, suspected rebels fired at an army checkpoint early yesterday in Batticaloa district, injuring one soldier, while a police officer was killed by a mine explosion overnight in eastern Valachchenai, he said.

"It was a quiet night," the foreign minister said.

The Tigers have been fighting for more than 20 years for a separate homeland for the country's ethnic minority Tamils. More than 65,000 people have been killed in the insurgency.

The 2002 ceasefire temporarily halted the bloodshed, but the past few months have seen renewed fighting in the north and east, where the rebels want to establish their separate state.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the recent violence and tens of thousands have been displaced, prompting local and international aid agencies to warn of a growing humanitarian crisis.

The international community has called for an immediate end to the hostilities and a return to the peace process that faltered earlier this year when the rebels refused to attend a round of peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland.

Samaraweera accused the Tigers of initiating the renewed fighting in late June by blocking a water source supplying thousands of people living in government-controlled areas. The move prompted the military to launch its first ground offensive since the 2002 ceasefire.

The Tigers say they acted because the government had failed to honor a promise to provide water to rebel-held areas, and that the government turned the water dispute into a "military issue."

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