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Death toll increases to 36 in Navy-LTTE clash off Mannar

Written by: Staff

Colombo, June 17 (UNI) The death toll in the high-pitch sea battle between the Sri Lankan navy and a Sea Tiger flotilla off Mannar this morning has increased to 36 with the military claiming that at least 30 LTTE cadres and six Lankan naval sailors have been killed in action.

According to a Defence Ministry statement, an intense battle was triggered off when a group of LTTE cadres, who had come in a flotilla of fiber-glass boats mounted a pre-dawn simultaneous attack on a police post at Pesalai and a navy detachment in the Mannar island both from the sea and land.

''LTTE had launched twelve boats to carry out this attack and the Navy has been able to destroy eight boats while damaging another three which resulted in killing at least 30 Sea Tigers. Six Navy personnel have been killed and another three suffered injuries during the confrontation,'' a Defence Ministry statement said, adding that two Navy boats too were damaged in the attack.

The statement also said that the Army artillery fire and MI-24 gunship helicopter of the Air Force had assisted in countering the failed LTTE attack, adding that the situation has now been brought under control.

Meanwhile, pro-LTTE Tamilnet website in a report accused that ''the Sri Lanka Navy troopers had opened fire on civilians at the shore in Pesalai'' wounding over 30 people this morning, after the Navy and the Sea Tiger gunboats clashed in the seas off Pesalai, 15 km northwest of Mannar.

''Civilians in hundreds have sought refuge at the Church of Our Lady of Victory, St Mary and St Fatima schools in Pesalai,'' the Tamilnet report said.

However, a Defence Ministry official denied this allegation and counter-accused that ''it is the LTTE cadres, who as usual opened fired at civilians at the Church premises and wounded 15-20 civilians''.

There was no immediate reaction from LTTE in this regard so far.

Meanwhile, two suspected LTTE cadres swallowed cyanide capsules at Negombo in the outskirts of Colombo when the police on information attempted to arrest them.

According to the Defence Ministry official, three suspected LTTE cadres were found moving suspiciously with ''diving equipment'' at a coastal village in Negombo by the civilians of the area. Two of them swallowed the deadly cyanide capsules while one was missing.

''A cordon and search operation is underway in and around Negombo area to apprehend the missing LTTE cadre, while the other two suspects have been rushed to the Ragama hospital,'' he said.

The Defence Ministry statement said, ''inquiries into the incident reveal that the LTTE terrorists had been trying to carry out a suicide mission but failed due to the vigilance of civilians in the area.'' Air Force helicopters were seen hovering over Negombo and suburb area during the search operation.


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