Tamil Tigers ready to attend peace talks, as army says 20 rebels killed in fierce battle
Tue October 10, 2006 08:59 EDT .
LEIGH MURRAY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) The Tamil Tigers will attend peace talks with the Sri Lankan government later this month, but warned they could withdraw if military aggression continues, a report said Tuesday, as the army said it killed 20 rebels in fierce fighting in the northeast. Dozens of army personnel and rebels have been killed since last week in fighting in northeastern Sri Lanka - , with each side accusing the other of initiating the attacks. About 1,500 people have died in increasingly heavy fighting since the last round of talks in February.
Thamilselvan described as unacceptable government claims that all military acts were defensive and in retaliation for violence instigated by the Tamil Tigers.
He urged the government to allow members of the Sri Lanka - Monitoring Mission access to the front lines on the Jaffna peninsula permission, he said, already provided by the rebels so they can ``judge who is the aggressor.''
``It will be too late to pass a final ruling on cease-fire violation after a major aggression has taken place and the entire island is plunged into a full-scale war,'' he added, according to the Web site.
A spokesman for the Nordic cease-fire monitoring mission, Thorfinnur Omarsson, said they are still awaiting government permission, adding that they have received rebel approval but have yet to visit the area.
Meanwhile, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said troops killed 20 rebels during two days of fighting starting Sunday in northeastern Trincomalee district after the Tigers intensified their activities. He did not elaborate on the rebel activities, but said they posed a threat to a strategic naval base and local residents.
``The army has chased away Tamil Tigers from that area and the army is now dominating the area,'' he told a news conference in Colombo.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels.
Separately, Samarasinghe said one soldier was killed and four wounded when the rebels attacked the military's defense line on the Jaffna peninsula overnight.
The military controls most of the Jaffna peninsula, but small pockets are held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which claim it as the cultural heart of the country's ethnic Tamil minority.
TamilNet said the army has moved rockets, mortar shells and other military hardware from its main Jaffna base to its forward defense lines, closer to rebel-controlled areas.
``Consignments of artillery ammunition, mortar shells, and rockets were rushed in heavy military vehicles'' to several areas along the defense lines, it reported late Monday.
The rebels' political wing said at the weekend that reliable intelligence suggests the military is preparing to launch a major attack on rebel and civilian settlements in the north under a scorched-earth policy.
The military declined to comment Tuesday on the latest report, but has previously said it only retaliates if attacked.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said Monday that the government remains committed to peace talks, but warned it would be ``compelled to take appropriate counter measures'' to ensure security if the rebel violence continues.
Also Tuesday, suspected rebels detonated a bomb hidden inside a van in Vavuniya, the northernmost government-held garrison town before rebel-held territory, killing three people and wounding three others, said police spokesman Kumara Sandanayake.
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. About 65,000 people were killed before a 2002 cease-fire.
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Associated Press writer Bharatha Mallawarachi contributed to this report.
Published: Tue Oct 10 12:48:27 EDT 2006