Sea Tigers quizzed by SLMM over sinking of Chinese trawler

by Kesara Abeywardena

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission on Sunday questioned the Sea Tigers at a meeting in Kilinochchi about the sinking of a Chinese fishing trawler off the Mallaitivu coast last Friday.

SLMM spokesman Teitur Torkelson told "The Island" yesterday that SLMM representatives in Jaffna had met the deputy commander of the Sea Tigers about the trawler sinking incident. But he said that details of the meeting and the response of the Tigers was not available. Earlier the LTTE denied any involvement in the attack on the trawler despite evidence that pointed in their direction. The Tigers had also refused to make a statement on the issue to the LTTE on Saturday but had backed down later on.

The nine survivors of the 27-member crew of the ill-fated trawler had accused the LTTE of surrounding their vessel and opening fire. Of the crew 24 had been Chinese nationals and three Sri Lankans.

The navy said that seven bodies of Chinese nationals had washed ashore near Point Pedro in the Jaffna peninsula. Officials of the Chinese embassy were flown to Jaffna yesterday to identify the bodies. The bodies are expected to be brought to Colombo to conduct the post mortem.

The SLMM said that they have recorded statements from the surviving crew members. Torkelson said that they would issue a ruling on the matter within this week after speaking to all concerned parties.

Meanwhile the Chinese government had made a formal protest to the Foreign Ministry and had urged the Sri Lankan government to conduct a full investigation on the incident.

The attack on the Chinese trawler is widely seen as a retaliatory action on the part of the LTTE for the sinking of an LTTE ship engaged in gun running by the Sri Lanka Navy a fortnight ago. Military officials were of the view that the Tigers would have mistaken the fishing trawler for a Navy craft or Sri Lanka Shipping Corporation vessel Lanka Muditha leased by the government to carry essential goods to the Jaffna peninsula. Lanka Muditha was also operating in a similar route as that of the ill-fated vessel.