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Post-LTTE attack, chances of talks dim

Chances of SL Govt-LTTE talks have receded after LTTE attacked Karuna group, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: May 01, 2006 13:02 IST

Chances of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE receded on Sunday after the LTTE launched a fierce attack on three camps of the rival Karuna group in Eastern Sri Lanka.

The attack, which is the first major land engagement after the declaration of ceasefire in February 2002, assumes significance in the light of the fact that the LTTE accuses the Sri Lankan Armed Forces of backing the breakaway Karuna group.

The issue of the so-called "Tamil paramilitaries" including the Karuna group was a highly contentious one in the first round of talks in Geneva in February.

One of the key conditions laid down by the LTTE for going for the second round of talks was that the government must disarm these groups.

The LTTE's contention is that the government has not kept its promise.  

Conflicting reports

There are conflicting reports on the casualties in Sunday's fighting.

The LTTE has claimed that it had killed 15 to 20 of Karuna's men in the attack which started at 12.30 am.

The camps, located in Kasankulam in the general area called Theevuchenai, on the Polonnaruwa-Batticaloa border, were completely destroyed, the LTTE said.

The pro-LTTE website Tamilnet went on to say that the Army had fired mortar shells at the attacking LTTE commandos.

As stated earlier, the LTTE has been accusing the army of supporting the breakaway Karuna group. 

Karuna group's contention

However, the Karuna group's spokesman, Thuyavan, told HindustanTimes that its fighters killed 17 of the attacking "Wanni Tigers" (as the north-based Prabhakaran group is called by the Karuna group).

"They took away 10 of the dead, and left seven," he said.

He further said that the incident took place at a place called Kandankadu, 9 km from Welikanda town in a deep forest on the Polonnaruwa-Batticaloa border.

The fighting, which started at 1.30 am, lasted more than an hour.

Asked if this area was under the control of the government or the LTTE, he said that it was a "non-man's land". 

Tamil sources say that Sunday's attack by the LTTE was meant to show that despite the government's assurances that it would disarm those who carried arms illegally in areas controlled by it, Karuna's group still existed, and that its camps were "surrounded by Sri Lankan Army camps," as Tamilnet put it.

Asked to confirm Sunday's incident, the Sri Lankan Military spokesman, Brig Prasad Samarasinghe, said that no details were available because the incident had taken place in an "uncleared area", meaning an area not controlled by the army.

Government offers two seaplanes

Despite the incident, the government is very keen on having the second round of talks.

Asked to comment on media reports that the government had offered two Sri Lankan Airlines sea planes to the LTTE to transport its commanders and cadres from one sector to another for pre-talks consultations, spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said that government was keen that the issue of transport should not hamper the talks process.

"We are ready to give any transport other than Air Force helicopters," he told Hindustan Times on Sunday.

But this is unlikely to make an impression on the LTTE now, given the fact that other issues have overtaken the offer of the seaplanes.

"The transport issue has been put on the back burner. The Tamil paramilitaries are the main issue now," a senior Tamil journalist said.

No May Day rallies in Colombo

Given the dangerous security situation in Colombo following the attempt on the life of the Army Commander by the LTTE on April 25, and the retaliatory air strikes in Eastern Sri Lanka, the government had banned all public meetings and rallies in Colombo district.

There would, therefore, be no May Day rallies, a regular annual feature, this year.

Government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, said that new security drills had been worked out, and that these measures would be implemented without undue inconvenience to the general public.