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Sporadic fighting as aid ship nears Jaffna

Written by: Staff

Colombo, Aug 24: Sporadic artillery fire and air strikes continued along Sir Lanka's Jaffna peninsula today as an aid ship approached the beseiged city for the first time in nearly two weeks, residents and officials said.

The army said the peninsula was ''calm and quiet'', but admitted some exchange of gunfire, which was confirmed by residents.

The military also said jets struck a rebel Sea Tiger base near their de facto capital of Kilinochchi today.

No supplies have reached Jaffna since Tamil Tiger rebels and government troops began heavy fighting along the front line on August 11, but relief looked at hand later on Thjursday.

A Red Cross-flagged cargo ship has sailed almost all the way around the island from the capital with security guarantees from both sides, while a second ship is preparing to sail from Trincomalee to begin the evacuation of some 500 foreigners.

What started as a fight over a disputed water source escalated into the first ground fighting since a 2002 truce, killing hundreds, sending tens of thousands fleeing and cutting off half a million Jaffna residents without food or supplies.

Diplomats mainly blame the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the violence. More fighting is usually seen as pushing minority Tamils towards the Tiger cause.

The outgoing and incoming heads of the unarmed Nordic ceasefire monitoring mission will meet the rebels tomorrow in Kilinochchi to discuss the situation.

''The LTTE is always committed to the ceasefire,'' said head of the Tiger peace secretariat S Puleedevan. ''But when the Sri Lankan military launches an offensive we have to neutralise their offensive capabilities.'' The government says almost the same thing -- although is also seen as keen to take over rebel territory overlooking the strategic Trincomalee harbour, a stumbling block for peace.

''The government is prepared for a negotiated settlement,'' Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told Parliament late yesterday. ''The doors are not closed. If they stop violence against us and if they stop disrupting normalcy of life then the situation will change.''


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