B. Muralidhar Reddy
23 persons killed in Sri Lanka; 3 Sea Tiger gunboats destroyed
COLOMBO: At least 23 people were killed in continuing fighting between the Sri Lanka military and the LTTE in the north and east on Saturday even as President Mahinda Rajapaksa is set to complete a year in office on Sunday.
According to the military, the day was marked by a sea battle, a deadly blast and gunfire. It claimed to have destroyed three Tamil Tiger gunboats, killing at least 15 cadres. However, the LTTE claimed that its cadres sank two navy boats, leaving 10 sailors dead. Both sides denied any death on their side.
Mr. Rajapaksa is scheduled to lay the foundation for an international airport at Weeravila in his hometown of Hambantota in the south to mark the completion of first year in office.
According to official estimates, over 3,000 people have died in the fighting between the Government forces and the LTTE since Mr. Rajapaksa took over as President last November. With the collapse of Geneva-II talks, on October 28 and 29, the concern of the international community is growing over the prospect of a full-fledged war in the island nation.
According to the navy, the battle took place at Mannar early on Saturday. Navy Commander D.K.P. Dassanayake said: ``Our radar detected two Tiger boats approaching our shores, and we dispatched navy boats to confront them. Our sailors managed to completely destroy two Tiger boats, and we estimate that 15 men would have been on board and killed," he said.
He said four Sri Lankan sailors were wounded, and air force planes destroyed a third boat. The Tigers' military spokesman, Irasiah Ilanthirayan, claimed that the Sea Tigers destroyed two of the navy's fast attack craft, killing 10 sailors, after the navy attacked their training boats. He denied military claims of heavy rebel casualties, saying only three guerillas were wounded.
Separately, the military said a bomb and subsequent gunfire killed four soldiers and four civilians in Vavuniya in the north. It claimed that the blast that targeted a military truck and killing four soldiers and four students from a nearby agriculture institute. However, TamilNet maintained that Sri Lanka Army soldiers manning a check-post close to the Thandikulam Agriculture Farm School in Vavuniya entered the school premises, lined up the uniformed hostel students and fired at them, killing four and wounding eight.
``The troopers manning a check-post, at Soya Lane, 100 metres away from the school, stormed the premises after a claymore blast killed five soldiers opposite the school around 9.45 a.m. Saturday. Fellow students said the troopers shot at them," it said.