15 armymen killed in Sri Lanka battle

B. Muralidhar Reddy

STF overruns Tiger base

COLOMBO: Two officers of the Sri Lanka Army, 13 soldiers and 20 Tiger cadres were killed in continuing incidents of violence in the east of island nation in the last 48 hours.

A statement by the Defence Ministry said here on Saturday that the security forces found the bodies of eight personnel including those of two army officers, who were gunned down by the LTTE on Friday, after a multi-pronged search operation in the Kokkarivillu area, 30 km north of the Wilpattu Wildlife Park in Anuradhapura district.

The casualties occurred as the vehicle carrying the commander of Anuradhapura, Lt. Col. Jayantha Suraweera, and Major P.D.F.A Jayarathna was ambushed. They had moved deep north of the wildlife park along with the officer in-charge of the park, Wasantha Pushpananda and army soldiers, to assess the security arrangements inside the national park.

Another vehicle carrying army and wildlife personnel had been ambushed in the same area where seven local tourists were killed in an LTTE landmine explosion in May last year.

Separately, Special Task Force (STF) troops, while conducting search and clear operations in the Parana-Pillumalai area in Ampara district, attacked an LTTE base in an hour-long confrontation on Friday. The Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said over 20 LTTE cadres were killed in the battle. Three STF troopers were killed and 12 others sustained injuries.

The MCSN said four bodies of STF personnel, who had gone missing in action earlier, were handed over to STF officials through the Red Cross on Saturday.

In another development, following the conclusion of the magistrate's inquest into the killing of 17 aid workers in Muttur last August, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has called for a prompt, independent and thorough investigation by a body that has the trust of all Sri Lankans, for those responsible to be brought to justice.

"Dispel concerns"

The execution style killing of the aid workers associated with a French NGO had sent shock waves within and outside the country. The killings took place after the Tigers overran the military defences guarding Muttur town. Tigers insist that the deaths occurred after they withdrew from the town.

"The inquest magistrate has pointed out flaws in the investigation so far and indicated the next steps in the investigation", said Michael Birnbaum (Queens Counsel), the ICJ's official observer at the inquest hearings.

"The Sri Lankan Government needs to dispel serious concerns about whether the justice system is now able to carry out independent and credible investigations into who was responsible for these killings and to mount effective prosecutions," he said.

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