5TH LEAD / BREAKING NEWS
Civilians flee SLA offensive in Jaffna
[TamilNet, Friday, 11 August 2006, 12:10 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s Army (SLA) launched heavy artillery bombardment against LTTE-held Elephant Pass area Friday and at 5.40 p.m. troops began moving towards LTTE frontlines at Muhamalai. The Tigers said they are rushing reinforcements to their northern Vanni defences to confront the SLA advance. Civilians have begun fleeing the southern Jaffna area and the town of Pallai is emptying amid hundreds of SLA shells. Meanwhile LTTE artillery counterfire is hitting SLA positions in Nagerkoil, Jaffna sources said.
In LTTE controlled southern Jaffna, thousands of civilians are fleeing towards Kilinochchi town as SLA artillery and multi-barrel rockets launchers pound the towns and villages around Elephant Pass.
“We fear that the SLA offensive is aimed at causing a humanitarian crisis in Vanni and we are deploying our forces to defend our territory," LTTE military spokesman Mr. I. Ilanthirayan further said.
Civilians traveling on commercial flights to Jaffna who landed Friday at Palali airbase reported seeing feverish activity amongst Sri Lankan military forces there.
Civilian sources in Jaffna meanwhile said large numbers of Sri Lankan troops are massing in Ilavalai and mathakal, west of the harbour town of KKS. Mathagal is located 13 km northwest of Jaffna.
They also said that throughout Friday the SLA troop manning checkpoints at the Muhamalai frontline on the A9 highway, did not allow private vehicles to pass through into LTTE-controlled areas. Only a few NGO vehicles and some busses were allowed to proceed.
The SLA offensive in Jaffna comes as Sri Lanka’s military, which began an offensive in Trincomalee three weeks ago, opened a new front in Batticola district.
Before the Jaffna offensive began, S. Puleedevan, head of the Tigers' peace secretariat, told Reuters: “There is a big offensive going on two fronts. Heavy fighting is going on, artillery, mortar fire and Kfir jets are bombarding.”
"The ceasefire really is in danger," he added, saying hundreds of civilians were fleeing the Batticaloa area.
On the Trincomalee-Batticaloa border, over 40,000 Tamil civilians who fled intense Sri Lankan bombardments in the past few weeks have reached Vaharai, but aid agencies are being denied access to them by the military.