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Artillery duels and air action continue in Sri Lanka

The shelling poses imminent threat to Indian oil installations near Trincomalee harbour cum naval base, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2006 19:35 IST

Tamil-speaking North-Eastern Sri Lanka saw artillery duels between the Security Forces and the LTTE, and aerial bombing by the Air Force, over a wide area on Friday and Saturday.

The LTTE used 130 mm guns to shell the Palaly airport in the Jaffna peninsula from Pooneryn across the Jaffna lagoon on Friday, the Military spokesman Brig Athula Jayawardene said.

One Air Force 212 helicopter was damaged, but not beyond repair, he said. He denied that a LTTE aircraft had fired rockets at the airbase.

No other installation or aircraft in the northern peninsula's only airport and air base was damaged, he added.

The airport was fully serviceable, he assured.

Nevertheless, there was curfew in Jaffna on Saturday. Telecommunication links had also been cut.

Elsewhere in the peninsula, Kayts island came under heavy shelling by the LTTE. It was firing from its bases in Pooneryn across the Jaffna lagoon.

The army used artillery and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) against LTTE bases in Pooneryn.

About 25 LTTE cadres were killed in Kayts and 54 in Pooneyrn, the army said.

Trincomalee naval base shelled

Early in the morning at 3 am, the LTTE began firing 122 mm artillery at the Trincomalee naval base.

The shelling, which lasted 45 minutes, inflicted three casualties.

The naval spokesman said that there were "no extensive damages" to the installations at the naval base.

All naval craft were safe, he added.

When it was discovered that the LTTE was moving three or four 122 mm guns along the coastal road in Trincomalee district from the North to the South, the Air Force was called in to destroy them.

"One of the guns was seen burning," Brig Jayawardene said.

LTTE says it has broken through at Jaffna

Tamil sources quoting the clandestine LTTE radio Voice of Tigers (VOT) said on Saturday, that the rebels had breached the Sri Lankan Army's forward defense lines in Muhamalai in south Jaffna, even as the government maintained that the attacks were repulsed.

VOT said that the Kilali-Nagarkoil Forward Defence Line (FDL) had been breached.

However, the LTTE columns were meeting stiff resistance in Jaffna the radio admitted.

Mandaithivu island, also south of Jaffna, was being bombed from the air and shelled by the artillery, the radio said. Rockets from MBRLs were pounding the area.

Army was rushing reinforcements to Allaipiddy, north of Mandaithivu island, parts of which had been vacated by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The LTTE believes that the Sri Lankan forces were poised to use Mandaithivu island as a springboard to attack Elephant Pass across the Jaffna lagoon.

Govt ready for peace talks

The government was keen on going for peace talks with the LTTE to settle all issues, Rambukwela said.

"We have been calling for Geneva II repeatedly. At Geneva II we can discuss all the issues include the Mavil Aaru water dispute, which triggered the present series of operations," he said.

The second round of talks on matters relating to the implementation of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement were to be held in Geneva.

But it got postponed indefinitely because of the intransigence of the LTTE.

Govt slams Co-Chairs

The government spokesman criticised the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo donors' conference for issuing a statement on Saturday accusing the Sri Lankan government of going on the offensive.

The government would certainly take up the matter with the Co-Chairs, he said.

It would point out that it was the LTTE, which had started it all.

The government had no option but to defend the country's sovereignty and integrity, which were challenged by the actions of the LTTE.

The LTTE, Rambukwela said, had been the aggressor right through the history of the ethnic conflict.

The Co-Chairs of the June 2003 donors' conference in Tokyo were the US, EU, Japan and Norway.

Subsequently, they began to be considered the "international community" in the Sri Lankan peace process.

India alerted

Aware of the LTTE's threat to Indian oil installations in China Bay, near the Trincomalee harbour, the Sri Lankan government had alerted India about it even before the current round of fighting, a reliable source told Hindustan Times.

The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has many storage tanks in China Bay.

First Published: Aug 12, 2006 13:05 IST