Sri Lanka kills 30 Tiger rebels in new assault

Colombo, January 16:

Sri Lankan troops and warplanes launched a fresh offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels today, killing at least 30 guerrillas for the loss of one soldier, the defence ministry said.

Troops, supported by air force fighter planes, destroyed three rebel mortar positions in the eastern district of Batticaloa, the ministry said in a statement. “In the confrontation one soldier died and 15 were injured,” it said, adding that over 30 rebel bodies were found in the area. Troops also recovered a haul of arms and ammunition from the battle zone.

However, the LTTE dismissed the military’s claims and said it beat back an army ground offensive. It said seven of its cadres were wounded during a five-hour battle.

“We successfully beat back the military offensive and suffered only seven cadres from our side wounded,” Tamil Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan told AFP by telephone from his base in the island’s north. “We are not sure of the casualties on the government side,” he added.

The rebels set off a powerful mine at a government office in northern Sri Lanka earlier in the day, killing two constables, police said. The LTTE planted the claymore device on a motorcycle parked at the district secretariat in the town of Vavuniya, 260 km north of Colombo, police said. A sailor was wounded Tuesday in a separate mine attack in the northwest of the island, police said.

Meanwhile, another report said despite India’s polite ‘no’, Sri Lanka is still for a defence agreement with India. But Colombo’s envoy here points out: “It takes two to tango.” High Commissioner CR Jayasinghe said that Sri Lanka was committed to achieving a political solution so as to end the country’s bloody ethnic conflict.

A proposed India-Sri Lanka defence agreement, which Colombo has repeatedly asked for, “has not been able to make progress as one would have hoped for,” Jayasinghe said.

But “it takes two to tango”, he pointed out. “Obviously the agreement would become a reality only if authorities in India (agree). On our side there are no issues.” Asked how vital was the agreement for India, the envoy replied: “It is not for me to speak.”