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Sri Lankan jets destroy Tamil rebel weapons ship

November 2, 1997

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lankan jets bombed and destroyed a large Tamil rebel ship that was unloading ammunition Sunday off the northeast coast, military officials said.

Naval gunboats spotted the cargo ship near the rebel-held town of Mullaittivu and summoned an air force spy plane, which confirmed the vessel was unloading arms, Air Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe said.

A pair of jets bombed the ship, which caught fire and exploded, Ranasinghe said.

It was not known if the ship’s crew suffered casualties. The guerrillas did not immediately comment on the attack.

The ship was ``quite large″ with three cranes on its deck, Ranasinghe said.

The rebels, who are fighting for a homeland for the minority Tamils, say the majority Sinhalese deny the Tamils education and jobs. Tamils make up 18 percent of the population of Sri Lanka, an island formerly known as Ceylon off the southern tip of India.

More than 50,000 people have been killed since the war began in 1983.

The guerrillas are known to own at least six cargo ships, registered in other countries through front organizations. They are believed to operate most of the time as normal merchant ships but sometimes load ammunition in East European and Southeast Asian ports.

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