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18 dead in Tiger infighting in Sri Lanka

The main LTTE pounded a base of the faction led by Col Karuna in Welikanda.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2006 12:42 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

At least 18 rebels were killed and many more wounded when Tamil Tiger guerrillas on Sunday launched a major attack against a rival faction in eastern Sri Lanka, military and rebel sources said.

The main Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) pounded a base of the faction led by V Muralitharan, better known as Colonel Karuna, in the jungles of Welikanda, a military official in the area said.

"The fighting is in an 'uncleared' (LTTE-controlled) area. We have not been able to go there and see for ourselves what is going on," the official said.

"What we know is what we have gathered from intercepted radio communications. They speak of 10 killed on Karuna's side and eight on the other."

Military officials in the area, about three kilometres (two miles) from the fighting, said they heard automatic rifle fire for about 45 minutes, and rocket propelled grenades.

The pro-LTTE website said at least 15 members of Karuna's group were either killed or missing after the assault launched by the LTTE. It did not say if there were casualties among the attacking force.

The Tigers have dubbed Karuna's faction a "paramilitary force" and wanted the group disarmed before entering talks with the Sri Lankan government on saving a troubled truce in place since February 2002.

The attack on Karuna's base came hours after the military fired mortars at a rebel-held area in the same district, Tamilnet said. There were no casualties in those strikes at Vavunathivu.

Government forces regard the latest internecine clash as the worst since the main Tiger unit overran Karuna's bases in April 2004, a month after he split from the main rebel group.

Overwhelmed by Tiger units from the island's north, Karuna, who was the LTTE's eastern military commander, disbanded about 5,000 to 6,000 cadres under his command and went underground with a smaller group of loyalists.

The Tigers have accused the Sri Lankan military of supporting the Karuna faction, a charge
denied by the authorities.

During a round of ceasefire review talks in Switzerland in February, the LTTE insisted that Karuna's men should be disarmed by government forces before another round of negotiations could take place.

Both sides agreed to meet again in Switzerland on April 19, but the Tigers -- fighting for a Tamil minority homeland -- put off the talks by five days and later called for an indefinite postponement citing logistical and security concerns.

Peace broker Norway has been trying to arrange a fresh round of talks amid mounting international pressure on both sides to return to the table and de-escalate the current cycle of violence. Nearly 200 people have been killed in the past month, according to both sides.

Scandinavians monitoring Sri Lanka's truce have said paramilitary units were operating in the troubled regions.

First Published: Apr 30, 2006 08:54 IST

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