(AFP) – Jun 11, 2008
COLOMBO (AFP) — Tamil Tiger rebels overran a navy outpost in Sri Lanka Wednesday, killing at least 10 sailors and losing four of their own fighters, the guerrillas said.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they seized heavy weapons and radar equipment after hitting the Irukkulampiddi naval detachment in northwestern Mannar district in a pre-dawn commando-style raid.
Sri Lankan's navy, however, said security forces had beaten back the offensive by killing at least four rebels, including a senior leader, and destroying a guerrilla boat.
"They are making big claims, but the attack was beaten back," navy spokesman Commander D. K. P. Dassanayake said. "We lost three sailors killed and four more wounded. Four Tigers were killed. One of their boats was destroyed by us."
The clandestine Voice of Tigers radio said the rebels occupied the navy facility for more than two hours and killed at least 10 sailors before escaping with heavy weapons including mortars, an anti-tank weapon and explosives.
"Four Tiger commandos were killed in action," said the Tiger radio broadcast.
The defence ministry said following the fighting, the military deployed Mi-24 helicopter gunships to attack fleeing rebel boats.
"The air assault had been launched around 4:45 am (2315 GMT) targeting the terror boats fleeing (north) towards Veddithalthivu area," the ministry said.
It said the guerrillas had carried out the attack with the intention of discouraging civilians in rebel-held areas from escaping to government-held territory.
The attack was on the small Mannar islet on the island's northwest coast which juts towards neighbouring India. The two countries are separated by a narrow strip of sea known as the Palk Straits.
The Sri Lankan navy cannot operate its bigger fast attack craft in shallow waters off Mannar where security forces have deployed smaller inshore patrol vessels.
The LTTE has its own naval unit, a rarity among rebel organisations anywhere, and operates a fleet of fast boats as well as merchant vessels used for gun-running.
The rebels have previously used explosives-laden boats to ram and sink Sri Lankan navy craft in suicide attacks and have also staged attacks inside key ports in the country.
They have also been accused of attacking local and foreign owned merchant vessels.
In their previous attack on the navy on May 29, the Tigers said they killed 13 sailors, a claim denied by the military which in turn said 16 rebels had lost their lives.
In other violence across the island's embattled north, at least 16 guerrillas and four soldiers were killed on Tuesday, the defence ministry said.
The latest fighting raises the number of rebels killed by security forces since the start of the year to 4,196, according to defence ministry figures. A total of 357 soldiers were killed during the same period, it says.
Casualty figures given by both sides vary wildly and cannot be verified independently.
The rebels are leading a drawn-out campaign for independence for the island's minority Tamils, who are concentrated in northern and eastern areas.
Tens of thousands have been killed in fighting since 1972.
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