Sri Lanka military says it has repulsed rebel attack on navy base
Tue June 20, 2006 02:51 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The Sri Lankan military said it repulsed an attack by Tamil Tiger rebels on a navy base on Tuesday, amid increasing violence between government forces and the Tiger militants.
The rebels launched the attack Tuesday morning on a base in the town of Muttur ``and we retaliated successfully,'' said navy spokesman D.K.P. Dassanayake. He said the navy suffered no casualties. The rebels, who have their own well-armed army and navy, were not available for comment.
The Tigers approached the base from the opposite bank of a nearby river, he said.
``Since we were alert, our men fired back, forcing them to retreat,'' Dassanayake said. ``We are not aware if they suffered any casualties,'' Dassanayake said.
Muttur is south of Trincomalee, a strategic port town.
There were no immediate further details on the attack, which came hours after the military accused the Tamil Tiger rebels of shooting at an ancient Buddhist shrine Monday to provoke a backlash by the country's Buddhist majority.
The rebels, however, denied involvement in the shrine attack, saying in an e-mail statement that the attack was carried out by armed groups backed by the Sri Lankan government and ``aimed at creating ethnic tensions'' and discrediting the Tigers.
Most of Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamils are Hindu, while the majority Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhist.
The Tigers have been fighting for more than 20 years to create a Tamil homeland in the country's north and east, where they now run a de facto government in several areas.
A statement from the government's Media Center for National Security said a group of rebels opened fire Monday with small arms from three sides on the Somawathi shrine, about 170 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of the capital, Colombo.
Security forces guarding the shrine, believed to be some 2,000 years old, fired back, forcing the rebels to retreat, the statement said.
The attack was an attempt to ``arouse the sentiments of the Sinhalese Buddhists against the innocent Tamils to cause Sinhalese-Tamil strife,'' the government statement said.
There were no reported injuries and the shrine was not damaged, said K.P.S. Wickremesinghe, a local police officer.
In 1983, anti-Tamil riots helped the Tamil separatist movement gain ground, and lead the way to years of war.
That ended in 2002 when Norway brokered a cease-fire between the rebels and the government. But subsequent peace talks failed over rebels' sweeping demand for autonomy. The war has killed 65,000 people.
The reported attack came amid a sharp spike in violence across this island nation, with government forces and Tiger rebels engaging in a bloody tit-for-tat campaign that has left dozens dead in just the past few days.
There are about 14 million Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, and about 3.2 million Tamils.
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Published: Tue Jun 20 03:20:41 EDT 2006