Sri Lankan navy sinks alleged rebel arms ship, says kills crew of 15
Sun September 17, 2006 07:18 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lankan battleships and warplanes intercepted an alleged Tamil Tiger rebel weapons shipment off the island's restive eastern coast Sunday, sinking the ship and killing up to 15 insurgents, military officials said.
The vessel's crew had refused to identify themselves, but hoisted a rebel flag during an eight-hour sea battle, before being bombed and sunk around 120 nautical miles (220 kilometers) off the eastern coast of Batticaloa district, military officials said.
Navy commander D.K.P. Dassanayake said the ship was carrying about 12-15 insurgents. He said there were no navy casualties.
The ship, allegedly carrying artillery and missiles, is believed to have been headed for the Sampur area, which government troops captured from the Tigers earlier this month. The rebels had warned that the move was a grave violation of a 2002 cease-fire and threatened retaliation.
The navy assault was reinforced by gunboats and fighter planes, said chief military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe. A handful of rebels kept up resistance for several hours until the damaged vessel went under, he said.
Tamil Tiger officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the country's 3.2 million ethnic Tamil minority in the northeast, citing decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.
The conflict cost the lives of about 65,000 people before a 2002 cease-fire that began unraveling in December and has since claimed hundreds more lives, and driven over 220,000 from their homes. More than 400 government troops alone have been killed since July, according to the military.
In other violence Sunday, suspected Tamil Tiger rebels detonated a roadside bomb near Sri Lankan forces on foot patrol, wounding four, the military said.
The roadside explosion, on a major supply route in the eastern Trincomalee district, injured a soldier, a guard and two civilians, the Defense Ministry's Media Center for National Security said. All four were being treated in hospital, it said.
In the violence-ridden northern Jaffna peninsula, an employee with the Ceylon Electricity Board was killed and two others were wounded on Saturday night when their company vehicle came under fire, the military said.
Unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed a 36-year-old shop keeper and father of three just outside of Jaffna town, witnesses said.
On Saturday, Australian investigators probing the execution-style killing of 17 aid workers exhumed two bodies from a cemetery in eastern Sri Lanka, officials said.
The 17 employees of international relief agency Action Against Hunger _ all but one of them ethnic Tamils _ were shot at close range in August during a fierce battle between the government and rebels for the eastern town of Muttur.
International cease-fire monitors have implicated government troops in the massacre _ a claim strongly denied by authorities. The United Nations and aid agencies have pressed for an impartial investigation.
Police on Saturday also said that seven civilians had been shot dead over the previous two days in northern Jaffna, long a flashpoint for violence in the Sinhalese-dominated state's near-two decade war with separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
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Published: Sun Sep 17 08:53:54 EDT 2006