SLA casualties in Jaffna fighting rise
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 25 April 2001, 14:37 GMT]
More than 400 Sri Lanka army soldiers were wounded in less than eight hours of fighting with the Liberation Tigers in Eluthumadduval and Kilali in Jaffna, military sources in the north said. Officials at government hospitals in Anuradhapura and Colombo said preparations are underway to receive more later this evening. The SLA spokesman, however, claimed that only 78 soldiers were wounded and 30 were killed. Op. Agni Khela I (Fire Flame), launched in the early hours of Wednesday morning, was the first phase of an ambitious plan by the SLA to retake Jaffna╠s southern sector and Elephant Pass, the strategic gateway to the peninsula which Tigers overran in April 2000.
The casualties were largely due to land mines and artillery fire by the LTTTE, SLA spokesman Brig. Sanath Karunaratna said. He claimed that hundreds of Liberation Tigers were wounded. The actual figure of LTTE casualties could not be verified independently.
Civilians who fled from villages in the SLA's rear, said that although both sides are still engaged in artillery duels, engagements between the LTTE and SLA infantry units stopped late afternoon.
All the phases of the operation, including capturing and consolidating Elephant Pass, were carefully planned and organised for more than four months, military sources said.
A large number of troops on the FDLs of the Nagar Kovil-Kilali axis were pulled out for retraining and to prepare for the Gini Khela series of operations since January this year, according to them. The Liberation Tigers were observing a unilateral ceasefire during this period.
The Sri Lanka's Prime Minister and senior ruling party politicians say it is politically imperative to retake the Jaffna's gateway to rejuvenate the Sinhala people's confidence in their government. The Liberation Tigers captured the sprawling Elephant Pass military base complex defended by more than 100,00 soldiers in April last year.
Meanwhile, the Voice of Tigers said in its night news broadcast Wednesday that LTTE troops are continuing interception attacks on the Sri Lanka army involved in Operation Gini Khela I. The radio said that the SLA had launched the offensive this morning with a massive barrage of rockets fire from multi-barrel launchers. The Sri Lanka Air Force and Navy too had backed the offensive with heavy bombing and bombardment, the VOT said.
The SLA banned all fishing in the lagoon Tuesday evening until further notice. Navy vessels bombarded the positions of the Liberation Tigers from the lagoon off the Kilali coast, sources said.