Heavy fighting breaks out in Sri Lanka’s north; warplanes bomb rebel-held areas in east
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan troops battled Tamil Tigers in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, and the air force bombed rebel camps in the east Friday in expanded fighting that threatened a return to full-scale war on the island.Two separate clashes were taking place on the peninsula, the traditional home of Sri Lanka’s 3.2 million Tamils, a rebel spokesman said. Separately, the air force targeted an area in the Batticaloa district in the east, about 56 miles south of a waterway where the two sides have fought for the past two weeks.”We are being attacked by Sri Lankan forces and we are defending our positions,” Tamil Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said. “Our soldiers are fighting with the great responsibility of saving our people.”He said 20 civilians were wounded in artillery fire in the peninsula and the Tigers told civilians to move to a safer place because of the attack.Military spokesman Maj. Upali Rajapakse said the attack in Batticaloa was neutralize “terrorist camps.” An air force official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of air force regulations, said the strike was carried out to stop Tamil rebels from moving to the waterway to support rebels already there.Battles on Thursday left 61 combatants dead at the waterway, according to the two sides.The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for the country’s 3.2 million Tamils, saying the ethnic minority can only prosper away from domination by the 14 million Sinhalese majority. The cease-fire put a temporary halt to the bloodshed, but the truce has nearly collapsed in recent months.Earlier on Friday, the rebels appealed to Norway for help getting food and other essentials to 42,000 civilians trapped in fighting in areas around the disputed waterway, where some of the worst clashes since the two sides signed a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire in 2002 have taken place.Norway, which has already allocated $1.5 million in relief money, said it would ensure that aid reaches people suffering from the conflict.”We will make certain that assistance is given to people who are suffering from this crisis,” Aid Minister Erik Solheim said, without specifically addressing the request by the Tamil Tiger rebels.The United States, meanwhile, urged both sides to return to peace negotiations.”Without political commitment and a spirit of compromise between both parties, there will be no end to the conflict,” the U.S Embassy in Colombo said. “There is no other way forward than through a return to negotiations.”—Associated Press writer Dilip Ganguly contributed to this report.—On the Net:Pro-rebel Web site: http://www.TamilNet.com
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