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Sri Lanka launches new strikes on Tiger territory

Written by: Staff

COLOMBO, Apr 26 : Sri Lanka's military today launched new strikes on Tamil Tiger areas in the island's northeast today, a day after a deadly suicide bomb attack blamed on rebels shattered a fragile ceasefire.

Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said today's strikes came after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fired on naval patrol craft off the eastern port of Trincomalee for a second day.

''The navy is heavily patrolling the area,'' he said. ''They requested air support.'' The government launched attacks on Tiger territory yesterday after a suspected suicide bomb in the capital killed nine and wounded the army commander.

The Tigers said today that at least 12 people -- including women and children -- died in those raids.

The attacks were the first official military action since a 2002 ceasefire halted the two-decades-old civil war and raised fears that the Norwegian-brokered truce was on the brink of collapse.

Swedish Major-General Ulf Henricsson, who heads the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, said if air strikes continued, peace talks would become difficult.

''We still have a valid ceasefire agreement. No party has ended it, but of course it is not a ceasefire right now,'' he told Reuters.

More than 100 people had already died in the bloodiest two weeks since the truce even before a female suicide bomber, disguised to look pregnant, blew herself up at Colombo's high-security army headquarters.

The Tigers' political leader in Trincomalee district, S Elilan, told the pro-rebel Tamilnet Web site (www.tamilnet.com) that the rebels, who deny all action, had not attacked the military and that the strikes on them were unprovoked.

He asked the Nordic staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), tasked with observing the ceasefire, if the war had resumed.

''We did not fire a single shot against the Sri Lankan troops yesterday,'' he said. ''SLMM should inquire into our complaint and should inform us whether the Sri Lankan Army has launched a full scale war on the LTTE.'' The Tigers yesterday denied responsibility for the suicide bomb attack, but scant mention was made of it on their Web site.

They indefinitely postponed peace talks that should have taken place last week in Switzerland, accusing the government of obstructing the transport of eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting.

But diplomats say they were just looking for an excuse to pull out, angry the government has not reined in renegade group of ex-rebels, the Karuna group, which has been attacking the mainstream Tigers in the east.

Some fear the Tigers may be planning a return to the battlefield to win their goal of a separate Tamil homeland.

The government has repeatedly said it will not be provoked, but it changed tactics following the suicide bombing.

Tamilnet said more than 150 shells and bombs had fallen on a stretch of northeastern rebel territory controlling the entrance to Trincomalee, causing ''severe damage to the life and property of civilians''.

Tamilnet said a primary school had been hit in the raid, but the military said they had no details on targets struck.


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