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LTTE factions battle in Lanka; 30 killed

Many others were injured in the fight between LTTE men and a rebel group, reports PK Balachanddran.
PTI | By PK Balachanddran, Colombo
UPDATED ON APR 09, 2004 05:25 PM IST

The LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran launched a full-scale military operation against the rebel Eastern military commander Col Karuna at 12 am on Friday, military sources told Hindustan Times.

About 200 heavily armed cadres under, the Trincomalee commander Col Sornam, crossed the Verugal river border into Batticalao district and in the fighting that followed, there were "heavy casualties". Some sources put the number of dead, both sides included, at 20 to 30.

The Verugal river crossing point is about 70 kms from the eastern coastal town of Batticaloa.

Sornam's formations were said to be heading towards Vaharai on the coast. "But Karuna is resisting till now," a leading defence analyst said.

Both sides were using mortars.In the outlying areas of Batticaloa, noise of shelling could be heard as late as 8 am friday.

The Verugal area is not a very populated one, as it is LTTE-controlled.News from that area does not easily reach Batticalao town, which is the headquarters of the district.

Eye ball to eye ball

Forces loyal to the two Tiger chieftains had been confronting each other eye ball to eye ball across the Verugal river for the past month.

On March 3, a split between Prabhakaran and Karuna came out into the open, with Karuna raising the banner of revolt and Prabhakaran expelling him from the LTTE and branding him a "traitor" to the Tamil cause.

Karuna had broken away on the issue of "discrimination" against the cadres and the people of the Eastern district of Batticalao and Amparai. Karuna hails from Batticaloa and had been the Eastern Commander of the LTTE for more than a decade.

The two sides had massed forces on the Verugal river border as Prabhakaran appointed senior Col Sornam as Trincomalee's commander apparently with an intention to invade Batticalao district and crush the rebellion.

However, neither side seemed keen on launching an operation before the conclusion of the parliamentary elections on April 2. Both sides wanted to show that "their" candidates had the peoples' support and could win.

Terror tactics

But both used terror tactics to intimidate the voters and public officials. Karuna kept Prabhakaran's man, Joseph Pararajasingham, under house arrest and prevented him from campaining. Prabhakaran went a step further and killed Karuna's man, Rajan Sathiamoorthy. His men shot at and wounded Batticaloa's Government Agent (top-most district civil servant and election officer) Mouna Guruswamy, and a university don, Prof Tiruchelvam.

There were other murders too, as Karuna asked people from the Northern district of Jaffna to leave Batticalao district. Estimates of the number of people who fled varied from 9,000 to 20,000.

Elections

Meanwhile, in the April 2 elections, Karuna's candidates numbering four in Batticalao district and one in Amparai, won. Prabhakaran's candidate, Joseph Pararajasingham was defeated.

The pro-LTTE Tamil party, Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), sent 20 MPs to the Sri Lankan parliament, in all. The ITAK MPs, who met in Colombo earlier this week, unanimously endorsed the united and long standing political demands of the Tamils vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan state. The Prabhakaran-Karuna reift was sidestepped. They also agreed to appoint to the National List in parliament, the two persons put up by the Prabhakaran group, namely, Joseph Pararajasingham and MK Kanekandran better alias MK Eelaventhan. Some observers view this as a setback for Karuna. But other say that given the threat to the security of his MPs, Karuna himself had asked them to fill in line with the majority view.

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