Terrorists target ship carrying 700 troops
* Escort vessel sunk with 17 officers and men

* Nordic monitors declare Tigers have no rights at sea and air

* Tigers endanger lives of three Nordic monitors

* Airforce hits Kilinochchi

* Government hopes International community will act even now

by Shamindra Ferdinando

The government last night emphasized the immediate need for international action against the Tigers after they blew up a Fast Attack Craft (FAC) providing cover to a vessel carrying over 700 security forces personnel to the Kankesanthurai Navy base.

Despite losing one of the escort vessels (P 418), the Navy fought back preventing a direct Sea Tiger attack on MV Pearl Cruiser. The navy acknowledged the attack was undoubtedly the biggest since the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) came into operation in February 2002. The entire crew is reported missing and believed dead. The crew comprised two officers and 15 sailors.

Sea Tigers launched the attack around 4.15 pm, military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said. According to him the Navy destroyed three enemy craft and disabled at least four. Initial reports indicated the loss of two FACs and heavy damages to several other craft.

About 90 minutes after the sea-battle broke out the airforce launched strikes on selected targets in Kilinochchi. Speculation is rife that the Iranamadu airstrip had been targeted.

Ms Helen Olafsdottir of the Nordic truce monitoring mission last night said that they contacted the Kilinochchi-based LTTE leadership immediately after the Sea Tigers triggered the clash off the Mullaitivu coast. "We urged them to cease the offensive and reminded them of the presence of Nordic naval monitors," she said, adding, "They asked us to get them out."

She confirmed air strikes on Kilinochchi. Airforce headquarters declined to release details. The Airforce spokesman said that aircraft and helicopter gunships were deployed in support of the Navy after Sea Tigers triggered the latest clash.

She said there were reports clashes at Kattaparichchan in the Trincomalee district.

Ministerial sources said that the international community and especially the EU together with the co-chairs would no doubt follow through with intended consequences as indicated to the LTTE on previous occasions. "International sanctions against such acts of terrorism are response to the sense of impunity enjoyed by the LTTE and it provides space for domestic restraint," the sources said.

The Pearl Cruiser is believed to have moved further towards the deep seas during the battle. According to Ms. Olafsdottir, two monitors had been moving with the Navy when the Sea Tigers struck. One of them had been on board the troop ship, she said.

The Pearl Cruiser is safe and seems to be in Indian waters," she said. She said a Finish truce monitor on board the vessel said it was unharmed but still remained at mid-sea. Subsequently she said that the vessel had moved back towards the Sri Lankan waters.

The Nordic truce monitoring mission declared that the LTTE committed gross violations of the CFA in recent days by moving at sea with the aim of provoking the Navy and now finally embarking on an offensive operation against the Navy sinking one vessel and putting SLMM monitors in grave danger.

The Mission spokesperson said, "The sea surrounding Sri Lanka is a government controlled area. This has been ruled by the SLMM in line with international law. Non-state actors cannot rule open sea waters or airspace. The LTTE has therefore no rights at sea."

The five-nation mission accused the LTTE of jeopardizing the safety of its members. The spokesperson said, "The LTTE has made what we feel are threats to our monitors warning them not to participate in patrols in Navy vessels. We take these threats very seriously and would like to remind the LTTE of its responsibility, as an equal partner to the Ceasefire Agreement, to do everything in its power not to jeopardize the monitors’ safety."

The mission demanded an immediate cessation of "all activities and operations at sea as they are a serious violation of the CFA."

Ms Olafsdottir said that a Nordic monitor based in the East too came under fire earlier in the day. This was during a mortar attack on the Navy detachment at Muttur jetty at about 1. 10 pm. Subsequently the Navy and Sea Tigers exchanged heavy fire off Muttur East in the afternoon

Earlier in the day terrorists targeted two military posts at Kalliyankadu and VVT in the Jaffna peninsula. The attacks inflicted injuries on two soldiers while a civilian died in the crossfire.

Army headquarters said that stepped up attacks come as terrorists with the support of several NGOs were forcing the civilians to vacate their homes at Maligathivu, Bharathipuram, Mainkamam and other villages. This was part of their strategy to show that security forces were driving the civilians out of their homes.

In Jaffna terrorists were seen building a new bunker line close to Army positions at Nagarkovil.



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