US, Italian envoys hurt in LTTE attack in Batticaloa

Both the envoys got injured in a mortar attack by the LTTE, reports PK Balachandran.

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The US and Italian ambassadors in Sri Lanka, Robert Blake and Pio Mariani, received shrapnel wounds when the LTTE fired mortar shells at the ground in which their helicopter landed in the eastern town of Batticaloa on Tuesday.

Ravinatha Aryasinha, Director General of Communications at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who was in the chopper, told Hindustan Times over phone, that most people had got down from the helicopter when two mortar bombs exploded somewhere in the vicinity.

A shrapnel had grazed the Italian Ambassador's head, and he was among ten people, mostly security personnel, who were rushed to the Batticaloa Base hospital. After treatment in the OPD, the envoy rejoined his group. The US Ambassador, in whose case the injury was minor, was treated on the spot.

The US Press Counsellor, Terry White, said that the Ambassador was alright.

Military sources said the mortar shells came from Vavunativu West, an area presently controlled by the LTTE. The LTTE had been firing at government positions in and around Batticaloa town from this place.

The Sri Lankan Defence Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella told Hindustan Times that there was "not an iota of doubt" that it was the LTTE which had fired the shells.

Military analyst, Iqbal Athas, said that the firing was probably meant to debunk the government's claim that the East had been virtually cleared of the LTTE and that the latter was very weak.

Ambassadors from the US, EU, Germany, Italy, and Japan; the UN agencies; and government officials were on a mission to Batticaloa to assess needs resulting from the displacement of thousands of civilians in the on going military conflict in North East Sri Lanka.

The tour was being conducted by the Minister for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Mahinda Samarasinghe.

First Published: Feb 27, 2007 16:53 IST