Mines Kill 5 Sri Lankan Military Forces
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Mine attacks killed five military personnel and wounded five Thursday in northern Sri Lanka, the latest bout of violence that threatens to return the island nation to all-out civil war.
Separately, police found five headless corpses near the capital, Colombo, and said they were investigating whether the deaths were linked to the recent surge in fighting with Tamil rebels.
This week’s bloodshed, including two days of government airstrikes against rebel positions, threatens a 2002 truce that ended two decades of fighting between the government and rebels seeking a separate state in the north of the island.
While both sides in the conflict and the European team overseeing the agreement say the cease-fire still holds, more violence in the coming days could lead to its total collapse, analysts said.
``The cease-fire still holds in a technical sense,″ said the National Peace Council, an independent think-tank. ``But escalating acts of war make it akin to a dead letter.″
The Tamil Tiger rebel group said the airstrikes Tuesday and Wednesday near the northeastern port of Trincomalee killed 12 civilians and forced 40,000 people _ mostly ethnic Tamils _ to flee their homes.
The chief cease-fire monitor, Ulf Henricsson of Sweden, traveled Thursday to those areas to inspect damage caused by the airstrikes and to meet with local leaders of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE.
He said the rebel claims about civilian casualties appeared to be ``fairly correct,″ noting that targets were mostly political and military but were situated in civilian areas.
He said he had no information on casualties among rebels, nor on the numbers of people who have fled their homes.
``It will be good if the government can issue a statement announcing that the attacks are over so that the displaced people can get back to their homes,″ he told The Associated Press by telephone.
Keheliya Rambukwella, a government spokesman, said civilians could go home anytime. ``As long as the LTTE does not target civilians and our military headquarters,″ there would be no more airstrikes, Rambukwella added.
Rambukwella maintained that the government launched the attacks _ the government’s biggest military operation since 2002 _ as a ``deterrent″ after the rebels attacked Sri Lankan naval boats and a suspected Tamil suicide bomber targeted a top official, wounding him and killing at least nine others.
He said the military had ``withdrawn from that situation″ after the rebel attacks stopped.
The government, however, blamed all three of Thursday’s mine attacks on the rebels.
Three soldiers were killed when an anti-personnel mine exploded in northwestern Mannar district 135 miles north of the capital, Colombo, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.
Three other soldiers were wounded in the explosion that took place near a public well where the soldiers went for a bath, Samarasinghe said.
Two sailors were killed when a mine exploded as they rode on a motorcycle on the Kayts islet in northern Jaffna Peninsula, the navy’s media unit said.
Earlier, two members of a government commando unit formed to help the military in its battle against Tigers were wounded in a mine attack on a fortified truck in Mannar, the Defense Ministry said.
The headless male corpses were found in two separate spots at a rubber plantation in Awissawella, a predominantly ethnic Sinhalese area about 22 miles east of Colombo, said Deputy Inspector General of Police Nevil Wijesinghe. Many Tamils work at the plantation.
Wijesinghe said they were likely killed somewhere else, then dumped at the plantation. ``We are investigating if the deaths are linked to the ethnic violence or (if) it is a gang war,″ he said.
A Tamil leader quoted on a pro-rebel Web Site said he feared the bodies belonged to Tamil civilians picked up by security forces either in Colombo or on the road from the north.
At least 65,000 people have been killed in a two-decade civil war in Sri Lanka.
The 2002 Norway-brokered truce halted large-scale fighting, but disputes over postwar power-sharing have hindered peace talks, and sporadic violence has raised tensions in recent months.
Associated Press Writer Krishan Francis contributed to this report.