Sri Lanka shelling continues, army vows to strike
COLOMBO, Sep 11 (Reuters) Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger guerrillas continued shelling on the island's northern frontline today as the army consolidated its recent advance and threatened to strike again at rebel gun positions.
The army stormed rebel bunkers along the frontline in the besieged northern Jaffna peninsula on Saturday in what it described as a ''defensive'' operation to neutralise rebel gun positions.
As the soldiers advanced a few hundred metres (yards) across the heavily mined frontline, 33 were killed and 132 wounded, the defence ministry said.
Radio intercepts suggested 115 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels had also died, it added.
Yesterday, the LTTE, which admits to losing just six fighters, accused the government of destroying what was left of a 2002 ceasefire agreement and declaring war on the rebels through its recent offensives.
The government responded by blaming the LTTE for ignoring its appeals to come to the negotiating table and intensifying its attacks on civilians and the military.
''In this backdrop, it will be imperative for the security forces to neutralise the enemy artillery and mortar threat to Jaffna peninsula, if the LTTE is to continue with their sporadic attacks against the civilians and the security forces in Jaffna,'' the defence ministry said in a statement today.
The ministry did not say if it intended to carry out air strikes against rebel gun positions or try to advance overland towards the strategic Elephant Pass, which controls the southern tip of the Jaffna peninsula.
Hundreds of civilians, troops and Tiger fighters have been killed since Sri Lanka's two-decade civil war re-erupted in late July, and more than 200,000 people have fled to refugee camps across the island's rural northeast.
The LTTE has appealed to Sri Lanka's main donor nations to exert pressure on the government to halt its offensives at a meeting in Brussels due tomorrow.
But diplomats say it is difficult to see how to rescue the peace process with both sides apparently more interested in fighting than in talking.
Tempers have risen further since the army captured a rebel stronghold last week near the strategic Trincomalee harbour in the northeast of the island after days of artillery battles.
The rebels demand that the army vacate the area of Sampur, the first major capture of territory by either side since the ceasefire was signed.
The government says it was forced to take Sampur because the rebels had been using it to shell a naval base in Trincomalee and disrupt a maritime supply route to the Jaffna peninsula. It says there is no question of a withdrawal.
Reuters DKB GC1121