The Sri Lankan navy destroyed four Tamil Tiger rebels boats during a fierce sea battle off the country's northern coast, the military said Tuesday.
Navy patrol vessels attacked a flotilla of rebel boats late Monday off Mullaittivu, one of the last areas under rebel control, said Capt DKP Dassanayake, the navy spokesman. A naval craft was damaged when explosives on a rebel suicide boat blew up.
The Tamil Tigers have a naval wing that uses small boats packed with explosives to ram into government naval ships in suicide attacks.
Details of the casualties are not available, he added. The sea clash came as the government intensified its anti-rebel offensive. In recent weeks, the government has seized control of the rebel administrative capital of Kilinochchi and boxed the insurgents into a shrinking pocket of territory in the northeast. Aiming to prevent rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran from eluding advancing troops, the navy has increased patrolling in the northern seas and has set up a naval blockade off Mullaittivu. Army chief Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka said Saturday the rebel leader might be able to slip through on a speedboat, head for a larger craft in the Bay of Bengal and escape, possibly to Africa. Rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment because communication to the north has been severed.
The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to establish an independent state for minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization at the hands of successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.