Sea battle kills at least 51 in Sri Lanka

June 17, 2006 (AFP) – At least 15 Sri Lankan naval troops, 30 Tamil Tiger rebels and six civilians were killed in major sea and land battles along the island’s northwestern coast Saturday, officials said. Helicopter gunships were pressed in to defend naval patrol craft which came under attack off the northwestern coast, the defence ministry said, hours after the military had used supersonic jets to bombard rebel Tamil Tiger positions elsewhere.

About a dozen rebel boats engaged the Sri Lankan navy off the islet of Mannar shortly after dawn Saturday while police arrested three suspected Tamil Tiger frogmen near the capital Colombo, the ministry said.

It said the frogmen may have been trying to carry out a suicide attack against an unspecified target.

The men were arrested in their diving gear after residents spotted them shortly after two mid-sea explosions. One died after committing suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule, hospital sources said.

Ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said government troops destroyed at least eight rebel craft killing 30 guerrillas. The navy lost 12 men in the sea battle although only four bodies had been recovered, he said.

“At least 30 Sea Ti