COLOMBO, May 1 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's navy said it came under attack from the Tamil Tigers' sea wing today and at least four were killed in a separate claymore mine blast, the latest violence to raise fears of a return to civil war.
The navy said five armed Sea Tiger boats, including two suicide craft, approached one of its vessels in waters off the northeastern coast of Trincomalee. When the navy tried to investigate, it was attacked.
''They have opened fire and attacked our Dvora,'' said navy spokesman D.K.P. Dassanayake, referring to the Israeli-built Dvora fast-attack craft. ''We retaliated in self-defence.'' Five sailors were wounded in the exchange, Dassanayake said, adding he did not know about Tiger casualties.
There was no immediate comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) headquarters.
But the pro-rebel Tamilnet Web site said the previous night a Sea Tiger transport in the same area had to defend itself against artillery fire from shore. No casualties were reported.
Near Trincomalee town, a volatile mix of ethnic majority Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, four civilians were killed in a suspected rebel claymore fragmentation mine attack on a naval foot patrol, the army said.
Four civilians and four sailors were also wounded.
At least 130 have died in suspected Tiger mine attacks, a suicide bombing, government air and artillery strikes, riots and political killings in the past month, the bloodiest period since the two sides signed a Norwegian-brokered truce in 2002.
The Tigers have been fighting for more than two decades to create a separate homeland for minority Tamils. Norway is trying to bring the government and the rebels back to peace talks meant to take place in Geneva last month.
But Nordic truce monitors say violence is worsening and that there is evidence members of the armed forces are retaliating for claymore attacks by kidnapping and killing Tamil civilians.
''We don't believe the government has knowledge of this,'' said Nordic mission spokeswoman Helen Olafsdottir.
''We believe that some soldiers or police may be taking the law into their own hands,'' she said.
The government denies extrajudicial killings are taking place, but a United Nations report released last week said it was not doing enough to stop murders by a breakaway rebel faction operating in the east known as the Karuna group.
The Tigers, whose anger at the Karuna killings are one of the chief reasons they are staying away from peace talks, said they raided a Karuna camp on Sunday, killing 20. A Karuna aide confirmed the attack but said only five had been killed.
Reuters SHB DB1241