Showdown

Guerrilla factions have exchanged heavy gunfire in north-eastern Sri Lanka, in the first major clash since an unprecedented split in the Tamil Tiger movement, military officials said.rnrn
Fighters of the main Tamil Tiger movement and cadres controlled by a renegade regional commander fired mortars and small arms fire for nearly two hours across the Verugal river, the officials said.rn

rnBoth sides have suffered casualties,” an official in the Batticaloa district said by telephone. “This could be the beginning of the showdown we had feared.”rn

rnA Tiger commander for the eastern districts of Batticaloa and Ampara broke away from the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) early last month sparking fears of a factional war.rn

rnBoth sides had up to 1,000 fighters each deployed along the banks of the Verugal which marks the border between north-eastern port districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa.rn

rnThe spokesman for breakaway regional commander V. Muralitharan, better known as