Navy destroys weapons boat with 8 suspected rebels on board; blasts kill 4 soldiers
Tue November 14, 2006 10:17 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The navy on Tuesday destroyed a boat suspected of ferrying arms to Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka's north, killing all eight men aboard, the military said.
Also in the north, four government soldiers were killed in separate clashes, the military said.
Navy patrol boats spotted a fishing boat off the western shore close to Indian waters, navy spokesman Commander D. K. P Dassanayake said.
When the naval boats drew close, the men on the other vessel opened fire and threw grenades, he said.
``Then the navy opened fire. The boat sunk after a huge explosion,'' Dassanayake said, adding that the big blast suggested the boat may have been carrying arms and explosives for the Tamil Tigers.
Sri Lanka is a small island nation separated by a narrow sea strip from neighboring India.
In the early days of the insurrection, Sri Lankan Tamil rebels used India's southern state of Tamil Nadu _ home to some 56 million Tamils, as their base.
But their activities were crushed by Indian authorities after the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tiger suicide bomber.
Dassanayake said he could not speculate on where the boat came from or apparently got the arms without proper evidence.
In Mannar, in the northwest, rebels triggered an improvised explosive device that killed three soldiers on patrol, said military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe. Mannar is about 220 kilometers (135 miles) from the capital Colombo.
Meanwhile, suspected rebels set off a roadside bomb on the northern Jaffna peninsula, killing a soldier, Samarasinghe said.
The separatist Tamil Tiger rebels didn't comment immediately on any of the incidents Tuesday.
Samarasinghe said the rebels fired artillery late Monday at military camps that dot the defense line separating government and rebel forces in Jaffna _ considered the heartland of Sri Lanka's minority Tamils. No casualties were reported.
Fighting along the line since August has left hundreds of combatants dead in some of the bloodiest clashes since the government and rebels signed a 2002 cease-fire that temporarily halted two decades of civil war.
Many fear that near-daily attacks and killings will drive Sri Lanka back to full-scale war, although the government and Tigers say they are committed to the truce.
The Defense Ministry reported on its Web site that 3,289 people have died in the fighting since Dec. 1, 2005 _ 860 government security personnel, 549 civilians and 1,880 rebels. This death toll does not include those who died Tuesday. The rebels do not generally issue casualty figures.
The two sides met in Geneva last month for peace talks, but failed even to agree on a date to meet again.
The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for minority ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east, citing discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.
The government controls the Jaffna peninsula's main towns, while the Tigers operate from villages and jungles.
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Published: Tue Nov 14 11:32:47 EST 2006