Air strikes on Sri Lanka rebels after sea battle leaves 45 dead

May 11, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s military hit back with air strikes on Thursday after a fierce sea battle with Tamil Tiger rebels left at least 45 dead, according to the navy, and punched another hole in a flimsy three-year truce. In January, suspected Tamil Tiger rebels blew up another Dvora gunboat, killing 15 sailors, in a suicide attack outside the northeastern port of Trincomalee. A Tamil Tiger suicide boat rammed and sank a Dvora fast attack craft as it escorted a ship transporting 710 soldiers to the northern peninsula of Jaffna, navy spokesman P.D.K. Dassanayake said.

“We lost a Dvora and managed to save ‘Pearl Cruise II’ and the 710 men aboard it,” Dassanayake said, adding that at least 15 Sri Lankan sailors and 30 rebels died in the two-and-a-half hour battle.

He said three rebel craft were destroyed by naval gunfire while another four were crippled.

A flotilla of about 15 rebel boats were involved in the abortive attack on the ship carrying troops, he said.

It was one of the worst naval confrontations since Norway brokered a truce in April 2003 after three decades of ethnic bloodshed that left 60,000 dead.

There was no immediate word from the Tigers about the latest fighting, but the navy discounted re