Sri Lankans Stop Bomb Plot; 24 Die
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka’s navy beat back a suicide attack on a naval base Monday by Tamil Tiger rebels who used explosive-filled boats and shot down an MI-24 helicopter, killing its crew of four.
At least 24 combatants _ six on the government side and 18 rebels _ were killed, and 43 sailors were wounded, government spokesman Ariya Rubasinghe said.
As the day broke, the navy spotted four rebel boats approaching the Trincomalee port in northern Sri Lanka. The sailors opened fire and sank three rebel boats carrying explosives. Two sailors and eight rebels were killed.
But the fourth vessel avoided interception and hit two anchored naval vessels, exploded and partly sank one vessel and damaged the other, Rubasinghe said.
Shortly after the suicide attack, the navy spotted another two rebel boats a few miles from Trincomalee port and destroyed them. At least four rebels on board were killed.
The guerrillas struck back, shooting down the MI-24 helicopter nearly six miles from Trincomalee, Rubasinghe said. The helicopter was answering a call to assist in the naval battle.
The navy searched for the downed helicopter with two pilots and two gunners, but couldn’t retrieve any bodies as the aircraft had sunk, military spokesman Brig. Sanath Karunaratne said.
In the land battle, the army killed six rebels Sunday near Sarasalai, nearly 12 miles east of Jaffna city in the north, which the Tamil rebels want to make the capital of a homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
The reports could not be verified independently. The government does not allow journalists into the war zone.
The guerrillas consider Trincomalee _ one of the finest natural harbors in South Asia but rarely used commercially because of the separatist war _ part of a Tamil homeland.
The government uses the port to transport soldiers, weapons and supplies to the northern war zone.
The 17-year war has killed more than 63,000 people.