Sri Lanka steps up attacks amid fears for threadbare truce

July 30, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka Sunday intensified artillery and mortar bomb attacks against Tamil Tigers and captured an area where the guerrillas had blocked an irrigation canal, a minister said. Backed by artillery and four days of air strikes, security forces moved to the Maavilaru water reservoir, Policy Planning Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

He is also the government’s defence spokesman.

“Troops are now at Maavilaru, but they will move slowly to remove booby trapped devices before opening the sluice gates,” Rambukwella told AFP. “Kfir jets flew over the area, but they did not drop bombs today.”

Air strikes between Wednesday and Saturday killed at least 15 rebels, but the government maintained it was not a return to full-scale war.

The defence ministry said the attacks were aimed at ending a Tiger blockade of the Maavilaru waterway that had deprived thousands of farmers of water in the Trincomalee district.

“The security forces are currently engaged in a limited operation with a clearly defined objective of securing water supplies to the civilian population,” the ministry said in a statement.

The violence, part of an escalation between the rebels and the government