Tamil Tigers Claim Naval Victory
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Tamil Tigers claimed Saturday to have destroyed two navy gunboats in a sea battle off a strategic causeway that both sides are battling to control.
The Voice of the Tigers, a clandestine rebel radio station, said the guerrillas attacked a navy patrol Friday night and destroyed two Israeli-built Dvora fast attack craft in the waters off Vadamarachchi, 180 miles north of Colombo.
The navy vessels caught fire and sank after being hit by the rebel artillery fire and the Sea Tiger boats, the guerrilla naval unit, said the radio, monitored in the northern military-controlled town of Vavuniya.
In Colombo, the Defense Ministry confirmed that the two navy vessels were destroyed by the rebels.
The battle took place near the Elephant Pass causeway, which links the mainland with Jaffna Peninsula. The guerrillas launched a major offensive two weeks ago to control the vital road bridge in their pursuit to recapture Jaffna town, their former capital, which they lost to the military in 1996.
Several sailors were killed in Friday’s sea battle, the radio claimed.
``Two fast attack craft ... were fired upon by the terrorists with heavy caliber weapons,″ Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Ranjith Withana said in a statement.
A search operation has been launched and most of the sailors have been rescued, the statement said. It didn’t give casualty figures.
The two naval craft can carry up to 34 sailors, a naval officer said.
Both sides claim to have killed hundreds of combatants over the past two weeks. There was no independent confirmation because journalists are barred from visiting the war zone.
On Thursday, the air force jet fighters and assault helicopters joined the battle for the first time after the guerrillas captured some government positions near the Elephant Pass.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka. More than 61,000 people have been killed since the war began in 1983 in this small island nation off India’s southern coast.