LTTE threatens to extend battle campaign

Colombo, October 21:

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels warned today they would extend their battle campaign across the tropical island if the country’s government “wants a war”.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are ready for war or peace and will leave the choice in the hands of the Sri Lankan government, rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan told AFP.

“If the Sri Lankan government wants a war, they will have it everywhere in the island,” Ilanthiriyan said by satellite telephone from the rebel-held north.

“If they want peace, Tamil people must feel they have peace,” he added.

The statements came as the two warring parties were scheduled to meet next weekend for peace talks to restore a 2002 ceasefire.

The Sri Lankan navy meanwhile said it had killed at least 20 Tamil Tigers and destroyed two rebel boats during a sea battle off the northern peninsula of Jaffna yesterday evening.

“Naval troops destroyed two Sea Tiger boats, killing 20 Sea Tiger cadres, and inflicted heavy damages to other boats during retaliatory fire,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The state-run media said as many as 35 Tigers were killed. The LTTE rejected the claim, saying no fighters or boats were lost in the clash, the latest in a series of deadly exchanges in the waters off the island.

“There was no loss of men or material on either side,” Ilanthiriyan said.

“Our boats were on a routine exercise when the Sri Lankan navy tried to interfere with them.”

Reports of the naval duel came as visiting United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, urged both sides to “lower the temperatures” and enter talks.

Govt assures security for rebels

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s government said on Saturday it will provide safe passage for Tamil Tiger officials traveling to Geneva for peace talks. “We will provide the necessary security in spite of their provocations,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said. Tamil Tiger leaders must travel through Colombo, the site of the country’s only international airport, to fly to Switzerland for talks scheduled to start on October 28. Rebel political chief Suppiah Thamilselvan was quoted as saying by the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site that attending talks would depend on the government guaranteeing their security in the capital. — AP