Renegade Tamil Tiger rebel chief rescinds fighters

Associated Press

Kajuwatte, April 10:

A renegade Tamil rebel commander has pulled thousands of fighters back to defend his fortified base in eastern Sri Lanka after the main rebel faction advanced against him with heavy mortar and gun fire, a military official and witnesses said today. The dissident faction vowed to “stand firm,” regroup and resume its defence. Fighting yesterday between the Tamil Tiger rebel factions killed at least 10 rebels and wounded 20. The Ministry of Defence said today that the offensive by the LTTE was a violation of the cease-fire agreement. Breakaway commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, also known as Karuna, recalled 2,000 of his about 6,000 fighters to his Thoppigala base to set up defenses, a military official said on condition of anonymity. Thoppigala is a jungle area in Batticaloa. To reach Thoppigala, the main faction would have to cross through government-held areas, thereby endangering the truce, an official said. Any attempt to carry weapons through government territory could provoke a military response, he warned.

Meanwhile, President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered her commanders to help evacuate rebel casualties from both sides, but not to interfere in their conflict, an official in her office said. “We don’t want to get dragged into this,” Defence Secretary Ciril Herath said. Sri Lanka’s new government will take up with Norway the issue of fighting between LTTE factions.

Swearing-in delayed

COLOMBO: In a bid to secure more power, president Chandrika Kumaratunga was set to name herself defence minister and finance minister at her new cabinet’s swearing-in on Saturday, an official said. Kumaratunga’s coalition emerged as the strongest presence in last week’s parliamentary elections, winning 105 seats in the 225-member Parliament, but fell eight seats short of a majority. The new cabinet’s swearing-in was delayed by several hours on Saturday due to bickering over the leadership of key ministries. — AP