Sri Lankan gov't assures security for rebels for Geneva talks; navy destroys 2 rebel boats
Sat October 21, 2006 03:41 EDT .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka - 's government said Saturday it will provide safe passage for Tamil Tiger officials traveling to Geneva for peace talks, as the navy destroyed two rebel boats approaching a naval base in the north, killing six insurgents.
``We will provide the necessary security in spite of their provocations,'' government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Tamil Tiger leaders must travel through Colombo, the site of the country's only international airport, to fly to Switzerland for talks scheduled to start Oct. 28.
Rebel political chief Suppiah Thamilselvan was quoted as saying by the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site that attending talks would depend on the government guaranteeing their security in the capital. Senior rebel officials usually avoid traveling outside their stronghold in the northeast, fearing they could be a military target.
``We have accommodated them over the years. We will provide necessary security, although they have unleashed terror ... even outside the northeast,'' Rambukwella said. ``We are a democratic government and not a terrorist outfit.''
Rambukwella's comments came as the navy on Saturday destroyed two Tamil Tiger boats that were spotted heading toward a naval base on Kayts Island near the volatile Jaffna Peninsula.
At least six rebels were believed killed in the attack, an officer at the Media Center for National Security said on condition of anonymity, in line with policy.
On Friday night, a navy patrol intercepted about 15 rebel boats off Jaffna Peninsula, setting off a 90-minute battle that left seven insurgent boats destroyed and at least 35 rebels dead, a Defense Ministry spokesman said, adding that the other rebel boats fled.
Rebel military spokesman Irasiah Ilanthirayan later confirmed that the navy attacked Tiger vessels but told The Associated Press that no insurgents had been killed.
The battle came amid a spike in attacks across the country that have left hundreds of combatants dead. On Wednesday, Tamil Tigers posing as fishermen blew up two boats in a suicide attack on a naval base on the touristy southern coast, killing at least one sailor. The battle killed 15 rebels.
Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher ended a two-day visit to the island by calling on both sides to stop fighting and seek a solution when they resume peace talks.
``In the end, the fighting is not getting anybody anywhere,'' Boucher told reporters in Colombo. ``The only way to go in the right direction is through negotiations.''
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 envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer of Norway, which brokered a 2002 cease-fire.
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 cease-fire.
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Published: Sat Oct 21 05:16:15 EDT 2006