Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lanka claims 100 dead in sea battle

FIERCE CLASHES The navy said they sank 12 Tamil Tiger boats and killed around 100 fighters in a six-hour-long battle off the coast of the island's Jaffna Peninsula

AGENCIES , COLOMBO

Sri Lanka's navy yesterday said it sunk 12 Tamil Tiger boats, including five suicide craft, and killed as many as 100 rebel fighters during a fierce six-hour sea battle off the country's northern coast.

The clash at sea near the besieged army-held Jaffna Peninsula came after five weeks of intense fighting that broke a four-year ceasefire.

"It was a major attack. There were 20 rebel boats. We were able to destroy 12 LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] craft, including five LTTE suicide boats," a military spokesman said.

"They were humiliated in their so-called seas and withdrew," he said.

He said he believed at least 75 Tigers had been killed, but there was no independent confirmation. The LTTE was not immediately available for comment.

The military spokesman said two sailors were injured and two navy fast-attack boats were slightly damaged by gunfire in the battle, which raged through the night and into the early hours yesterday.

He said that he believed the rebel flotilla had been seeking to attack a northern naval base at Kankasanturai (KKS) on the Jaffna peninsula, which is cut off from the rest of the island by rebel lines and where there are severe food shortages.

"I feel like they were doing something to disrupt KKS to damage supply lines to the north," he said.

A Roman Catholic priest who said he witnessed the dusk-to-dawn battle said nearly 500 families living in the area fled, fearing they would be caught in the crossfire.

The army is trying to take the Tiger-held town of Sampur, where the rebels are within artillery range of a major naval base in Trincomalee, giving them the ability to disrupt a key maritime supply route to Jaffna.

Fourteen soldiers have been killed and 92 wounded since that offensive began last Sunday. The army estimates around 120 rebels were killed.

The military said Jaffna itself was quiet after days of artillery battles, and residents -- thousands of whom want to evacuate to Colombo after weeks of being trapped on the peninsual -- were hopeful civilian flights would soon resume to the capital.

Airline Aerolanka said 5,000 people in Jaffna had asked for seats on flights. Other residents are just trying to get by.

"It looks as though this is a never-ending war," said mother-of-three Sarojini Rajadurai, 38, whose husband was killed in a motorbike accident last year and who now supplements her widow's pension by renting out rooms in her house to university students.

"I feel there is a curse on the Tamil community -- and for that matter on Sri Lanka," she added.

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, voiced concern about the abduction of a Tamil media worker just days after another Tamil journalist was kidnapped and later released. Several Tamil journalists have been killed so far this year.

The government is preparing to send a second shipment of aid including food and emergency supplies to Jaffna. The vessel is expected to sail today.

But humanitarian workers say the government is hampering the delivery of supplies, such as medicines, to rebel areas.

"We are being denied proper access to LTTE areas by the security forces and the government," one aid worker said.

Diplomats see little real effort by either side to de-escalate the violence, and while the 2002 truce still technically holds on paper, they expect a war that has killed more than 65,000 people since 1983 to rumble on.

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