SL army battles rebels in island's east

The fighting resumes early on Tuesday, just hours after rebels say they are resuming their independence struggle.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2006 10:36 IST

Sri Lanka's military fought a fierce artillery duel with Tamil Tigers in the island's restive east early on Tuesday, just hours after the rebels said they were resuming their two-decade independence struggle.

The military said the Tigers were using 152 mm artillery shells for the first time to target their forward defence line in the eastern district of Batticaloa, and had so far killed one soldier and injured two others.

"Our defence lines have been mortared and shelled," said Major Upali Rajapakse, a spokesman with the Media Centre for National Security. "They are using heavy, heavy guns. The army is retaliating with artillery."

On Monday, the rebels gave the green light for a convoy of 60 trucks carrying around 600 tonnes of food aid to cross into their territory to reach around 30,000 war-displaced, but Rajapakse said continued rebel fire could scotch the plan.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who on Monday said they saw no other option than to resume their demand for an independent state and resume their struggle, were not immediately available for comment on the clash.

Shadowy Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had earlier pushed for a separate homeland for minority Tamils short of outright independence, called in an annual speech on Monday for international recognition of their struggle, which analysts said meant Sri Lanka should brace for more war.

"The uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam," Prabhakaran said in his annual address. "Tamils are recommencing their journey on the path of freedom."

The Tigers spent much of their two-decade insurgency battling for independence, but scaled down their demand to a separate homeland within Sri Lanka after a 2002 ceasefire, now lying in ruins but which both sides argue still holds on paper.

Prabhakaran said the ceasefire had become defunct and had been effectively buried by the government.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has ruled out a separate homeland or independence, but says he is willing to consider widespread devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka. His government says it will continue to fight the Tigers if provoked.

Sri Lanka's two-decade civil has killed more than 67,000 civilians, troops and rebel fighters since 1983, around 3,000 of those this year alone.

First Published: Nov 28, 2006 09:24 IST