"Hundreds of Tigers" in Muttur - residents

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 02 August 2006, 19:18 GMT]
Intense fighting is underway in Muttur in Trincomalee district as hundreds of heavily armed LTTE cadres who have taken control of the town centre laid siege to four Sri Lanka Army (SLA) camps on its periphery, residents said Wednesday evening. An effort by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) to land reinforcements on Muttur jetty was routed by LTTE fighters battling SLN troops at one end, reports said. Sri Lanka’s military insisted however that the Army was in control of the town and that the ‘desperate’ LTTE was retreating before its counter-attack.

Continuing a dawn offensive out of the Sampur sector, LTTE fighters this morning swept into Muttur, on the southern shore of Koddiyar bay, from the east, residents said.

Abdul Rauf told the BBC Tamil service Wednesday that hundreds of LTTE cadres who moved into Muttur could be seen in all parts of the town.

Sri Lankan troops had retreated into camps located at four corners of the town, he said.

The Tigers have surrounded the camps and laying siege to them, he added.

The LTTE has urged civilians to seek refuge in safe places.

"We have taken necessary precautionary measures to safeguard civilians," I. Ilanthirayan, LTTE military spokesman told reporters. "We are taking care to avoid civilian casualties. The Muslim people are also our people."

Shells fired by Sri Lankan gunners in Trincomalee naval base are hitting civilian areas, residents say.

Meanwhile, transport to and from Muttur area has been blocked in all directions due to the fighting, another eyewitness told BBC.

As the shelling intensified, thousands of civilians in the predominantly Muslim town fled their residences and sought refuge in mosques, churches and in interior hamlets.

"We were not prepared at all to face a situation like this," a catholic nun at St. Teresa convent told the BBC Tamil service Wednesday evening. The nun and the Methodist pastors at the convent treated several wounded civilians. A nine-year old boy was killed earlier in the day when shrapnel hit him inside the church’s premises.

Abdul Rauf told the BBC that civilians fear the fighting would escalate when SLA forces attempt to rescue or link up with the troops in the besieged camps.

"The LTTE has completely surrounded the camps. Sri Lankan troops cannot come in or break out," he said.

The LTTE has captured a part of the Muttur jetty and its former SLN defenders have withdrawn to the other end, residents said. The LTTE has been able to block supplies and reinforcement from reaching the jetty, they added.

Meanwhile, Major Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s Deputy Defence spokesman, denying the eyewitness reports told the BBC LTTE cadres were ‘desperately’ withdrawing before an SLA counterattack and have taken refuge in Muttur hospital, banks and government buildings.

"It is a total lie," he said of reports that SLA was not in control of the Muttur town.

He claimed it was the LTTE, not the SLN which had failed to land reinforcements by sea. "We have defeated the sea-born LTTE operation. Two LTTE boats were destroyed," he said.

"3 SLN personnel and 2 SLA soldiers were killed. 14 soldiers were wounded in the fighting at the jetty," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, sources said that SLA forces undertaking a stalled offensive to capture Maavilaru reservoir in Seruvila were not receiving reinforcements or supplies after the A15 supply route had been cut in several places.

Up to seventeen SLA mini-camps had fallen to a multi-pronged LTTE advance into the Muttur sector, the sources said.

Other sources quoted Sri Lankan soldiers in the area as saying that LTTE fighters had reinforced their defences in the sector, deploying mortars and taking up positions in prepared trenches near the reservoir.

When asked by BBC Tamil Service when the Tiger offensive would end, LTTE military spokesman Ilanthirayan, said it was early to reveal strategic dimensions of the LTTE's operations in the Trincomalee district.


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