4TH LEAD (UPDATE, ADDS LTTE QUOTES)

Dozens killed in new Sri Lankan offensive on Sampoor

[TamilNet, Monday, 28 August 2006, 11:38 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s military launched a major offensive Monday to capture Tamil Tiger controlled Sampoor in the Trincomalee district. Bombs and shells have killed at least 20 civilians and wounded 26 more, LTTE sources in Sampoor told TamilNet. At least 11 SLA soldiers were killed and 79 wounded, AFP reported. The objective of the offensive was to capture Sampoor and Thoppur area, Sri Lanka Army (SLA) commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka told The Associated Press. The LTTE's Military Spokesman Irasaiah Ilanthirayan told Reuters the Sri Lankan government was trying to resume a full-scale war.

SLA troops supported by heavy artillery, Air Force (SLAF) bombers and Navy (SLN) gunboats launched a two-pronged offensive at 3 a.m. sources in Sampur said.

Troops from Pachchanoor and Pallimunai SLA camps were attempting to advance into Sampoor via Thoppur and Kilathimunai, Trincomalee District LTTE Political Head S. Elilan told TamilNet.

“Heavy fighting is going on at the border,” Elilan said, referring to the edge of LTTE-controlled territory in the eastern district.

SLN gunboats are launching rocket attacks from the sea off Ilakkanthai.

SLAF jets bombed several locations in LTTE-held areas, including Padalipuram.

“They are continually shelling and bombing populated areas in our control. They have advanced and reached our lines,” the LTTE's Military Spokesman Irasaiah Ilanthirayan said.

“We are retaliating. Obviously they are trying to come into Sampur. They are trying to initiate a full-scale war. We have always been ready to defend our land and our people,” Ilanthiraiyan said.

Both sides have not commented on casualties.

Volunteers at a hospital in Polonnaruwa rush to collect wounded Sri Lankan soldiers from a military helicopter on Monday, Aug. 28, 2006 [Photo:AP]
AFP reporting from Trincomalee said 11 soldiers had been killed and 79 wounded, mainly by LTTE artillery and mortars.

49 soldiers taken to one hospital in the Trincomalee district, and another 30 were taken to the adjoining Polonnaruwa district, AFP also reported.

SLA commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka told The Associated Press the objective of the new offensive was to capture LTTE controlled parts of Trincomalee.

"The security forces have taken this decision to retake Muttur, Kaddaiparichchan, Sampur and Thoppur to safeguard Trincomalee naval base and the harbor," Fonseka said.

Earlier defence officials told AFP "the objective is to neutralise the heavy Tiger artillery pieces located at Sampur."

"A ground offensive was launched this morning and troops are moving towards Sampur," the military source said. "Troops are expecting close quarter fighting, but the casualties so far had been due to artillery and mortar bombs."

The Sri Lankan government says its Trincomalee naval base was vulnerable to attacks from Tiger-held Sampur, and that any operation to retake the village should not be considered a violation of the 2002 cease-fire.

But the base was first shelled by the LTTE in early August as the Tigers counter-attacked to thwart a Sri Lankan offensive against their positions in Trincomalee.

The first heavy fighting between the LTTE and Sri Lanka’s armed forces since the 2002 Norwegian-brokered truce erupted on July 21 this year when the military launched a major offensive against the Tigers in Maavil Aru, Trincomalee citing a dispute over a block water canal.

Analysts say the dispute was a pretext for a military campaign to recapture Sampur from the LTTE.

A deal clinched by Norwegian Special Envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer to end the Maavil Aru dispute fell apart when SLA artillery fired dozens of shells at international truce monitoring chief Ulf Henricsson and LTTE officials attempting to open the sluice gates.

Weekend press reports meanwhile said Sri Lanka’s President Rajapakse last Monday told Ambassadors representing the international backers of Norway’s peace process that the LTTE in Sampur posed a threat to the strategic Navy base at Trincomalee.

Responding to urgings of a ceasefire by the heads of missions of Norway, Japan, Germany, US and the EU, the President had said that if LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan himself asked for a ceasefire, he would consider it.

The Sunday Leader said that when Norwegian Ambassador Hans Bratskar had asked Mr. Rajapakse about the possibility of a ceasefire in Trincomalee, the President had snapped: “What, are you asking me to hand over Sampur to the LTTE?”

 

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