Sea battle in Sri Lanka; seven killed in mine blast

Nov 18, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s navy and Tamil Tiger rebels Saturday claimed they had sunk each others’ craft in a sea battle off the northwestern coast as seven people were killed following a mine blast elsewhere. The island’s northeastern seaboard is a vital supply route for security forces and civilians in Jaffna. The battle off the coast of Mannar district came four days after the navy sank an Indian trawler allegedly hijacked by Tiger rebels to transport “warlike material”.

“In a joint operation, the navy and the air force destroyed three Sea Tiger armed craft,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

“Four (Sri Lankan navy) sailors sustained injuries.”

However, the Tigers said the navy had attacked them while they were on a routine naval exercise and that they had retaliated, sinking two naval craft and killing 10 sailors.

“The navy started the attack and we retaliated,” rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan said by telephone.

“We have sunk two inshore patrol craft and damaged another. Our guard units have confirmed killing 10 sailors.”

Ilanthiriyan said three of the cadres were wounded but denied losing any of their vessels. Similarly,