Renewed fighting in North Sri Lanka on Wednesday could derail peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, scheduled to be held in Switzerland on October 28 and 29.
Even as the Norwegian peace brokers announced in Oslo that the two sides had agreed on the dates and venue for the talks, the LTTE accused the Sri Lankan Armed Forces of launching a major offensive in the Nagarkovil-Muhamalai-Kilaly sector south of Jaffna.
The pro-LTTE Tamilnet website said that the offensive in Thenmarachchi started at 6.30 am with an artillery and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) barrage.
The LTTE's military spokesman, Rasaiah Ilanthirayan, said that Sri Lankan ground troops had moved from Muhamalai and Kilali and that heavy fighting was going on inside LTTE-held territory.
Ilanthirayan further said that the Sri Lankan forces had seized over 200 boats from Jaffna fishermen for possible use in an amphibian assault on Pooneryn across the Jaffna lagoon.
The Nordic truce monitors confirmed that a major offensive was on, but said that they had no details.
Govt accuses LTTE of firing first
The government's National Security Media Unit said that the fighting was started by the LTTE, which fired artillery and mortars on the Army's forward positions in the Muhamalai-Nagarkoil sector straddling Thenmarachchi and Vadamarachchi.
The LTTE had also infiltrated into the government-held areas.
The Security Forces gave a fitting reply, pounding identified LTTE positions from land, sea and air, the media unit said.
The government accused the LTTE of firing artillery and mortars in the Muhamalai sector for the past two months with the sole intention of preventing the A9 Highway from being opened.
The A9 Highway is the only land route to Jaffna from south Sri Lanka. And its prolonged closure had led to a severe humanitarian crisis in the Jaffna peninsula, home to 500,000 Tamils.
Fighting shatters peace hopes
The Tamilnet website quoted officials of the LTTE's Peace Secretariat as saying that the latest Sri Lankan offensive had "shattered peace hopes".
That the scheduled peace talks might not be held was evident in peace broker Erik Solheim's remarks from Oslo on Tuesday.
Solheim, who is also Norway's Minister for International Development, said that the two sides should "ensure that a meeting actually take place".
The LTTE had told the Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar on Tuesday, that it would have to review the decision to go for talks if the Sri Lankan government continued to go on offensive military operations, and amassed troops and equipment for a fresh campaign in the North.
The LTTE has been particularly apprehensive about a major offensive in the Thenmarachchi area.
This is because the next stop will be Elephant Pass, further down the road.
From the Sri Lankan government's point of view, the capture of Elephant Pass is essential for the defence of Jaffna, but from the LTTE's view, it will directly threaten Kilinochchi, its headquarters.
The Sri Lankan Armed Forces consider Pooneryn and Kilaly as being essential for the defence of Jaffna.
But the LTTE considers these two places as being essential for firing artillery at Jaffna and preventing the Sri Lankan Navy from using the Jaffna lagoon.