Da Khaleej Times del 18/10/2006
Originale su http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?section=subcontinent...

Two dead as rebels attack Sri Lankan port

COLOMBO - Suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bombers disguised as fishermen infiltrated a Sri Lankan port on Wednesday, destroying three gunboats and killing at least two people, officials said.

The attack on the southern port of Galle -- a popular destination with foreign tourists -- came as foreign envoys pushed for the Colombo government and the rebel Tigers to hold peace talks later this month.

Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) broke through defences and barged into Galle, the country’s third-largest city which is home to the navy’s main southern base.

At least 20 people were wounded in the raid, in which the attackers entered the harbour in at least five boats. There was no immediate word on the number of attackers or the type of boats used.

‘Obviously they have come to Galle on a suicide mission,’ Rambukwella told AFP. ‘There was no damage to merchant shipping.’

The attack came two days after a huge suicide bombing against a naval convoy northeast of Colombo killed at least 103 people and wounded 150. The government blamed the Tigers, who neither confirmed nor denied it.

Meanwhile, peace envoys from Japan and Norway were in the south Asian country to try to convince the two sides to attend peace talks scheduled for later this month aimed at restoring a 2002 truce.

Japan’s Yasushi Akashi arrived here Sunday while Norway’s peacebroker Jon Hanssen-Bauer arrived on Tuesday to attempt to prepare an agenda for talks the two sides agreed to hold on October 28-29 in Switzerland.

In Galle, police said the Tigers used a flotilla of five boats to enter the port. Three explosives-packed boats rammed against navy gunboats anchored in the harbour, one was destroyed by naval fire and the fifth was unaccounted for.

There was no immediate indication of rebel casualties, but police took two dead bodies to hospital, an official said, as the fighting was underway.

Police slapped a curfew on Galle, 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of Colombo to prevent majority Sinhalese mobs attacking minority Tamils following the Tiger attack, police said.

Police used loudspeakers to ask residents to leave their homes near the port and the historic Galle Fort area, a UNESCO heritage site.

The city got its name from a Portuguese fleet that landed there in 1505.

Rambukwella said the military sent gunboats into Galle to counter the LTTE attack. The military maintains a base in the area and ammunition depots in Galle harbour, which is also used by commercial shipping companies.

Residents in Galle said at least 10 explosions were heard and there was also gunfire in the area.

Sri Lanka’s military has used Galle harbour to import arms and ammunition for security forces following threats to the bigger port of Colombo, which is a container hub for South Asia.

Rambukwella said he believed the Tigers chose to attack Galle, in the heartland of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, to provoke bad feelings against minority Tamils.

‘It looks like they are keen to create a backlash,’ Rambukwella said.

There was no immediate reaction from the Tigers, who in December 1997 detonated a truck bomb near the port in Galle, targetting the navy commander at the time.

In recent months, the military has discovered large quantities of explosives allegedly transported by the Tigers from the island’s north to other areas.

Rambukwella said several other consignments of explosives may have gone undetected and that the Tigers could be using them in the island’s south to stage more attacks.

The three decades of ethnic bloodshed in the tropical island nation has claimed over 60,000 lives.

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