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COLOMBO, March 1, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka suspended sales of telephones and mobile phone cards in the embattled north and east on Thursday as troops stepped up attacks against Tiger rebels, an official said.

The move was temporary and aimed at preventing guerrillas making use of phone services for military operations, telecoms watchdog chief Kanchana Ratwatte said.

“The Defence Ministry has asked us to tell the operators to stop selling telecom equipment and services like pre-paid cards and new connections to people in the north and east,” Ratwatte said.

The announcement came as Sri Lankan jets bombed suspected Tiger positions in northeast Sri Lanka, a day after Colombo stepped up an offensive against the rebels, killing at least 18 people, according to military officials.

Ratwatte alleged that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) had been using the phone network to obtain information about Sri Lankan military movements.

In January, authorities restored mobile services to the eastern region after it was blacked out for several weeks due to military reasons.

Mobile services in the north were restored in December after being out of service for at least six months due to the