Sri Lanka troops in sea battle as Tiger towns fall

November 18, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s navy traded fire with a flotilla of Tamil rebel boats off the island’s northeastern coast Tuesday, a day after ground troops captured three guerrilla-held towns, defence officials said. Sri Lankan authorities have restricted access to the embattled areas for journalists as well as for most aid workers, making claims by the two sides impossible to independently verify.

The Sri Lankan government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the LTTE in January. The navy’s special boat squadron engaged the four boats of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) off Mullaitivu district and destroyed at least two of them, a navy spokesman said.

He said at least six guerrillas were believed to have died in the attack. There were no immediate reports of casualties among security forces.

The sea battle came after the government said its forces had captured three strategic towns from the rebels.

The advances capped three days of psychologically important gains for government troops, who have been battling the rebels for more than 35 years, army chief Sarath Fonseka said.

Security forces entered the town of Mankulam, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the Tamil Tig