B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Fierce fighting broke out between the military and the LTTE along the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) at Vavuniya and Omanthai in the north on Friday.

A Defence Ministry statement said the Tamil Tigers to ward off pressure in the east resorted to fire mortars compelling the forces to retaliate. The fighting has hampered the function of the Entry Exit point at Omanthai causing hardship to civilians. The military said the Tigers initiated the attacks on Thursday.

It said the Tigers were "desperately" shelling the FDL. They recently buried over 280 anti-personnel mines at the Omanthai Entry-Exit point which restricted the freedom of the civilians.

Help sought

Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama met U.S. Congressional leaders in Washington on Wednesday and sought more help from the international community to stop the LTTE from raising funds through its front organisations such as the TRO.

A Foreign Ministry release said he told the leaders that though the U.S. had banned the LTTE in 1997 as a terrorist organisation, it was still operating there collecting substantial funds for procuring weapons.

The U.N. has expressed serious concern over the plight of the newly displaced in eastern Batticaloa due to continuous fighting. The U.N. is running out of funds to meet even the most basic requirements of the displaced just as the figures continued to rise rapidly in the east.

Energy aid

Meanwhile, the United States has granted Sri Lanka Rs. 51 million ($474,000) as grant to promote "energy security" in the island nation through the development of the nation's oil and gas sector.

Sri Lanka at present has no oil or gas production of its own and imports approximately 80,000 barrels per day.

However, based on preliminary surveys, the Sri Lanka Government believes that there are oil and gas reserves in the Mannar basin.

The Government intends to invite international bidding companies to explore potential oil and gas blocks in the basin.