SL claymore attacks lethal and hard to foil
Trincomalee (Sri Lanka), Apr 24: Small, easy to conceal and lethal in their effect, suspected Tamil Tiger rebel claymore mines are taxing Sri Lanka's military.
In both a series of attacks in December and January that preceded a first round of peace talks and a newer spike of violence this month that has stretched a 2002 truce to its limits, suspected Tiger ambushes have killed dozens of troops and police.
''It is very difficult,'' said a lieutenant, sweat running down his face in the morning heat as he led a patrol of naval infantry through the northeastern town of Trincomalee, scene of recent attacks and ethnic riots. ''The LTTE move through the people. It could be anyone here. Things can happen in just one minute.'' The military says the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been using both industrially made and improvised claymore mines, blocks of plastic explosive impregnated with ball bearings that blast out a hail of steel in a semi-circle, to try and maximise casualties and hit military morale.
The Tigers deny responsibility for the attacks and accuse army special forces of launching their own claymore attacks in rebel areas, which would also be a breach of the battered ceasefire. The army denies the charge.
Some analysts fear the rising violence, including attacks by mobs from the Sinhalese majority on Tamil civilians in the aftermath of suspected rebel attacks, will reignite the islands two decade civil war. But for now, most of the violence seems to be hit-and-run.
The military says it is frustrating some Tiger attacks. today, the army says soldiers shot and killed two Tigers laying a claymore ambush near the eastern town of Batticaloa. But other attacks are getting through.
Sometimes dug into earth mounds at the side of the road, sometimes concealed in undergrowth and sometimes wheeled into position attached to bicycles or autorickshaws, the army says the mines are detonated by remote control by a hidden rebel.
Claymores, named after a medieval Scottish broadsword by their original designers, can also be set up to be triggered by tripwire, effectively making them anti-personnel mines, but there are no reports of this being done in recent attacks.
The military has bolted large steel armour plating on to the front of some troop-carrying buses to defend them against the hail of steel. But normal soft skinned vehicles offer no protection at all, and injuries are horrific.
With the vehicle or patrol hit and several troops often dead or dying, the army says the attackers withdraw fast, sometimes firing to cover their retreat.
In recent violence, no suspected Tiger has ever been captured after a claymore attack, although the army says some have been caught as they tried to set the ambush.
So far, the attacks seem to have been aimed at military targets.
But others are getting caught in the crossfire. Two Sri Lankan aid workers died when they were caught in a claymore blast in the northern town of Jaffna, while two British tourists were wounded in an attack on a naval bus on the road to Trincomalee.
''When I see an army convoy go down a road, I wait one hour before following,'' said United Nations World Food Programme local head Mahbub Ul Alam, who has been forced to almost cease operations as violence rises. ''It is too dangerous to do anything else.''