At least 15 Tamil civilians were killed and more than 30 wounded when the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) bombed the coastal village of Padaguthurai near Iluppaikadavai in the North Western district of Mannar on Tuesday, the LTTE's Military spokesman Rasaiah Ilanthirayan said.
According to the LTTE, four Kfir supersonic bombers struck 20 houses in the coastal hamlet in the morning.
There was great difficulty in taking the injured to the nearby hospitals because the Sri Lankan Army had blocked the road to Mannar town at Uyilankulam, the LTTE complained.
Sea Tiger base, says SLAF
But the SLAF spokesman Jayantha Silva said that the target taken was a Sea Tiger base.
Asked about the casualties, he said that while accurate information was not immediately available, interception of the LTTE's radio communications showed that the casualties were considerable as there were urgent calls for ambulances and doctors.
The Air Force had also bombed Vaharai and Panichenkerni in the Eastern district of Batticaloa, neutralising LTTE mortars, he added.
LTTE artillery attacks
The LTTE, on its part, had been maintaining an artillery and mortar barrage from its bases in the Thoppigala jungles against army positions in Vavunathivu, Kiran, Chengaladi and Black Bridge in Batticaloa district.
The government Military spokesman Brig.Prasad Samarasinghe said that the South Trincomalee area was being cleared of mines and booby traps to enable civilian refugees to return to their villages from camps in Valaichenai and other areas in Batticaloa district.
According to him, 38, 000 Tamil civilians had fled from the LTTE controlled areas in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts since July 2006 as the LTTE was using them as human shields.
85 per cent of Jaffna food needs met
As regards the situation in the Northern district of Jaffna, Brig Samarasinghe said that the era of food shortages was over with the government being able to meet 85 per cent of the need.
"Jaffna is getting 24 hour power supply now and the mobile phone system has been activated.
The cordon and search operations there are yielding results because we are getting the peoples' support," he said.
Truce monitors withdrawal leads to child recruitment
The cabinet's Defence Spokesman Kehaliya Rambukwella said that the withdrawal of the Scandinavian truce monitors from the conflict areas in the North-East had helped the LTTE step up its recruitment of children for its fighting forces.
"There is a mass recruitment of children in the absence of the SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission)," he charged.
Rambukwella said that the SLMM had to be "condemned" for withdrawing from the conflict areas complaining that the lives of the monitors were in danger there.
The SLMM had said that it was regrouping in Colombo to chalk out its future course of action and that the withdrawal from the North-East was only temporary.
According to Rambukwella, however, the monitors want to be in Colombo all the time and set up a Rapid Action Force to deal with serious incidents in the field.
He criticised the SLMM for not intimating the government about the move to shift to Colombo.
The MOU on truce monitoring had provisions for such crisis situations and there was an accepted and agreed way of doing what the SLMM did, he pointed out.
The SLMM had acted "indecently" the Minister said, adding that the government Peace Secretariat had taken up this matter with the international community.
Monitoring theft of cows
Rambukwella said he was surprised when the SLMM told the government that they were in the North-East only to monitor small matters like stealing cows and not dangerous situations as they had been facing lately.
"But looking at the way they reported some incidents like the bombing of Chencholai and fighting in Mutur, it is clear that they had been in the field to report more than just the stealing of cows," he commented.
Action on Jordanian ship
On what the government was doing to retrieve the Jordanian ship MV Farah III, allegedly seized by the LTTE off the Mullaitivu coastline on December 24, Rambukwella said that the government was waiting for the Jordanian owner to submit documents relating to insurance.
A naval officer said later that if the company would be paid by the insurers, the Security Forces could try to retrieve the ship by force or destroy it as it was done in the case of the vessel MV Princes Cash with an Indian crew, about ten years ago.
MV Farah III had 14,000 tonnes of basmati rice from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh on board.
Barring this cargo, the LTTE had removed all other valuables from the vessel on December 24 itself, the naval source said.