Mortar attacks as Sri Lanka troops dig in near key port

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, Sept 5, 2006 (AFP) – Security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels traded mortar bomb attacks in this Sri Lankan port district Tuesday, a day after the military captured a nearby rebel artillery base.

The rebels accused the military of sparking the latest fighting and said their forces were still holding Sampur’s eastern edges.

“We are still in Sampur east,” said S. Elilan, the Tigers’ political wing leader for the district of Trincomalee.

“It is the government army which started this war,” he told AFP by telephone. He said 23 Tiger rebels had been killed and another 35 wounded during the past week.

Fighting in Sri Lanka has intensified since December, shattering a 2002 ceasefire and leaving more than 1,500 dead, according to official figures.

Military officials said at least one soldier was killed and 18 hospitalised after being hit by mortar bombs at Sampur, the town security forces wrested from rebel control on Monday after a week-long battle.

A military officer said troops were digging in and establishing new defences in the region.

The Sampur offensive was aimed at neutralising Tiger artillery guns that last month hit naval and air ports in Trincomalee, where