Sri Lankan navy destroys 2 Tamil Tiger boats, killing 20 insurgents, military says
Fri October 20, 2006 11:52 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka's navy on Friday destroyed two Tamil rebel boats killing at least 20 insurgents, after the guerrillas launched an attack that triggered a fierce gunbattle in the country's volatile north, the military said.
A U.S. envoy, meanwhile, urged an end to fighting and a resumption of peace talks.
Navy patrol boats intercepted about 15 rebel boats spotted off the village of Nagarkovil on the Jaffna Peninsula, setting off a battle that lasted around 90 minutes, a Defense Ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
``Two boats were destroyed by naval attacks and we believe at least 20 insurgents were killed in the attack,'' the spokesman said, adding that the other rebel boats fled.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels, but the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site confirmed that there were heavy clashes at sea.
The attack came as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher ended a two-day visit to the island, and called on the government and Tamil rebels to end their fighting and take a step towards finding a solution when they resume talks in Switzerland starting Oct. 28.
``In the end, the fighting is not getting anybody anywhere,'' Boucher told reporters in the capital, Colombo. ``The only way to go in the right direction is through negotiations.''
He said the Tamil Tiger leadership can only achieve its aims by returning to the negotiating table with the administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
``They have aspirations to satisfy some of the legitimate grievances of the Tamil community,'' he said. ``They have aspirations to see the Tamil community respected, and be able to control its own affairs within a unified island, and the only way they're going to achieve those aspirations is through negotiation.''
Meanwhile, the navy recovered the bodies of seven rebels involved in a suicide bombing that killed up to 16 people in the touristy south, said an officer at the Media Centre for National Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Tamil Tigers posing as fishermen blew up two boats in a suicide attack on a naval base Wednesday in the historic resort town of Galle, killing at least one sailor. Two others reported missing were found with injuries later.
The attack in Galle, 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of the capital, Colombo, could signal a major shift for the rebels, whose decades-long campaign for a separate homeland for minority ethnic Tamils has largely focused on Sri Lanka's north and east, which they claim as their cultural heartland.
Galle, with a 400-year-old Dutch fort and beautiful beaches nearby, is popular with both local and foreign tourists.
The Galle attack was the second rebel suicide attack on Sri Lanka's navy this week.
On Monday, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed truck into a military bus convoy in central Sri Lanka, killing at least 95 sailors and wounding more than 150 _ the deadliest insurgent attack since a 2002 cease-fire temporarily halted the country's civil war.
The attacks prompted the Australian government to Friday upgrade its travel advisory for Sri Lanka.
``We strongly advise you not to travel to Sri Lanka at this time because of the deteriorating security situation and the high risk of further terrorist attacks,'' the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
The advisory said that recent reports indicate terrorists may be planning suicide attacks against the headquarters of the Sri Lanka Air Force in central Colombo and its main fighter wing at the country's only international airport.
Despite the soaring violence, both sides say they remain committed to peace talks.
Diplomatic efforts have also been stepped up ahead of the talks. Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi was on the island this week, along with Norwegian envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. About 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 cease-fire.
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Published: Fri Oct 20 12:47:32 EDT 2006