Fuelling fears of a return to civil war, suspected Tamil Tiger rebels killed 11 soldiers in the island’s far north on Tuesday in the second mine attack in less than a week, the military said.
The attack followed a string of guerrilla ambushes on the military and the at a Christmas mass that are straining a 2002 truce to breaking point.
“It was a claymore attack,” said military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe, referring to the claymore fragmentation mine used in the assault near the northern town of Point Pedro.
“Definitely the LTTE is behind this attack,” he said, using the initials of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. “No one else is capable of doing this kind of claymore mine attack in Jaffna except the LTTE.”
Ten soldiers died in the blast, while another died from his injuries in the hospital. Four others were injured in the attack.
Sri Lanka’s stock market closed nearly 7 percent lower as news of the latest attack compounded earlier losses prompted by the Christmas killing.
In separate incidents on Tuesday, suspected Tigers shot dead one policeman and injured another in the eastern district of Batticaloa and soldiers found a hidden claymore mine.
On Friday, 13 sailors were killed in an ambush by suspected Tiger rebels using claymore mines and rocket-propelled grenades in the island’s northwest.
That prompted major aid donors Japan, the European Union and Norway to send a delegation for emergency talks with the Tigers.
Two days later Joseph Pararajasingam, a member of parliament for the Tamil National Alliance— the rebels’ proxies in parliament— was assassinated at a Christmas mass in the restive eastern district of Batticaloa.
In another incident on Tuesday, British demining organization the Halo Trust said armed men overpowered guards at their Jaffna compound and stole two four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Military sources said the men, who have not yet been identified, also stole 45 mine detectors, 45 uniforms, two laptops and seven sets of walkie-talkies.
“We are very concerned about the situation and urge both parties to show restraint,” said Mats Lundstrom, spokesman for the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission overseeing the truce. “We are concerned about the future of the ceasefire agreement.”
Ceasefire monitors have stopped patrols in the northern Jaffna peninsula because of the deteriorating security situation.
The Tigers threatened in November to resume their armed struggle to carve out a homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east unless they were given wide political powers in about 15 percent of the country where they run a de facto state.
'I fear war will start again'
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is allied to hardline Marxists and Buddhists who refuse any concessions for the rebels, has ruled out the idea of a Tamil homeland.
Rajapakse headed to India on Tuesday on his first state visit since winning the presidency in November. He aims to seek more Indian involvement in Sri Lanka’s stalled peace process, but officials and analysts in India said he was unlikely to have much success.
Streets were deserted in the military-held Jaffna peninsula -- which is hemmed in by rebel lines. Shops and banks were closed on the orders of a suspected rebel front organization and cash dispensing machines were empty.
“I have a strong fear in my heart day and night and am very worried about my family,” said 48-year-old Jaffna butcher Solomon Gerald.
“Judging by the present happenings, I fear war will start again at any moment but I won’t go anywhere. I will stay here and face it like the rest,” he added. “Where can we go?”