Suicide Bombers Hit Key Port in Sri Lanka Fighting Upsurge
Tamil Tiger rebels Monday attacked a strategic Sri Lankan naval port with a flotilla of suicide boats and downed a helicopter gunship that went to the aid of sailors, officials said.
At least two sailors were killed and 40 wounded when four rebel boats packed with explosives tried to ram into the Trincomalee harbor, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of here, a navy spokesman said.
An army soldier was also killed in a mortar bomb attack in the region, officials said.
The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also fought pitched sea battles with navy gunboats around the port of Trincomalee while the air force was called in to bomb rebel gun positions, military officials said.
A Mi-24 helicopter crashed into the Koddiyar bay after being hit by, probably, a 23 mm cannon, military spokesman brigadier Sanath Karunaratne said, adding that navy divers were being deployed to salvage the wreckage.
The navy said a total of three rebel craft were engaged by gunboats outside the harbor and destroyed while four entered the harbor. Three of them were blown out of the water, but the fourth exploded against the passenger ferry.
"One enemy suicide boat exploded near a fast passenger craft and its stern is now resting on the sea bed," the navy spokesman said. "Another gun boat was also damaged.
"In addition to the four suicide boats, we have destroyed three enemy craft in three separate confrontations this morning," the navy spokesman said.
"The losses suffered by the enemy are high."
The port was sealed off after the incident.
"The port is now closed for civilians as well as civilian employees of the navy," a local official in Trincomalee said.
"A search operation is underway for rebel infiltrators."
A regular passenger ferry service between Trincomalee and nearby Muttur town was also suspended as the navy launched a major clearing operation within the harbor complex.
Trincomalee is a vital base for the Sri Lankan navy, which patrols the northeastern waters off the island to check movements of the marine wing of the Tigers known as Sea Tigers.
"The Sea Tigers have launched this attack (Monday) as security forces resisted a rebel offensive at Nagarkovil in the Jaffna peninsula where there had been heavy fighting since Thursday," officials said.
The latest upsurge in violence came as Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake vowed to escalate military action against the Tamil Tigers.
In April 1995 Tamil Tiger rebels infiltrated Trincomalee harbor by using frogmen and sank two gunboats, signaling the end of a cease-fire, which had lasted 100 days.
The LTTE is leading a drawn out campaign for an independent homeland called Eelam in the island's northeast.
The latest suicide bombing came just four days after a suspected Tiger suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body outside the Town Hall here in the capital Colombo.
The bomber and two others were killed while another 21 people, including three foreign nationals, were wounded in that attack.
Following the attack, police said they had information that at least 47 suicide bombers had infiltrated the capital for more attacks.
Suicide bombings are the trademark of Tamil Tigers who consider their elite Black Tigers, or the suicide unit, as their protective Armour -- COLOMBO (AFP)
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