Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tamil Tiger rebels claim Jordan ship crew are safe

AP , COLOMBO

The Tamil Tiger rebels said yesterday that the 25 crew members of a Jordanian ship that strayed into waters under rebel control were safe and that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been contacted to facilitate their safe return.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they boarded the Farha-3, which was carrying Indian rice bound for South Africa, on Saturday after it drifted into waters the rebels say are under their control because of mechanical failure.

The insurgents said in a statement that a senior rebel official had contacted the Red Cross to expedite the return of the crew members, who were all safe. The crew were from Jordan and Egypt.

No one at the ICRC office in Colombo could be reached for comment.

Earlier, the Sri Lankan government issued a statement criticizing the rebels for seizing the crew, saying it was "preposterous" for a rebel group banned in numerous countries as a terrorist organization to claim control over the territorial waters of Sri Lanka.

The rebels, who say they are fighting to create a separate state for the country's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority, are banned in the US, the EU and India.

The military accused the rebels of trying to capture the 150m ship, but the guerrillas denied the allegation.

"We are not sure about the fate of the ship which is still drifting, but all the crew members are safe and resting," Rasiah Ilanthirayan, an LTTE spokesman, said earlier. "They had a shower and rest and we are trying to help them talk to their families."

Navy spokesman D.K.P. Dassanayake said the fate of the crew was unclear because they were still in rebel custody. The government had no information about the conditions or whereabouts of the crew.

"We are keeping a close watch, but we can't take any military action until we know that the crew are out and safe," he said.

The government has contacted the ICRC and the Jordanian government over the issue.

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