Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers said on Friday the military had opened a new front in the worst fighting since a 2002 truce, bombing one of their training camps and killing many rebels.
Air Force Kfir jets pounded rebel positions in the eastern district of Batticaloa, around 35 miles south of the site of a disputed waterway, near which fighting has been concentrated and is now in its 17th day.
The military said it was continuing with its offensive to wrest control of the water supply, but gave no details.
“This is another very serious offensive,” S. Puleedevan, head of the Tigers’ peace secretariat, told Reuters by telephone. “The Sri Lankan armed forces are opening new fronts and mounting offensive attacks. Many of our members are dead.”
“The offensive attacks are pushing the cease-fire towards a war. But the time has not yet come.” He said the Tigers were taking countermeasures.
Government pledges not to halt
Army trucks towed fresh heavy gun parts towards the main battle front further north after an army camp was wrecked overnight when an artillery gun accidentally exploded, igniting an arms dump.
Officials said three troops were injured in the blasts, but said there were no fatalities as feared late on Thursday.
“The operation to defend the water continues,” said Major Upali Rajapakse, senior coordinator at the National Security media center.
The government says it will not halt operations until it controls the disputed sluice and an irrigation reservoir that feeds it. The Tigers say the land is theirs, and say continued army attacks are an effective declaration of war.
Death toll mounts
The Tigers said on Thursday more than 50 civilians were killed and 200 wounded in their territory from army shelling. Doctors said six troops were killed and more than 50 wounded during an abortive push to capture the sluice.
The Tigers have long demanded a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east but President Mahinda Rajapakse has ruled this out. The rebels say any return to stalled peace talks is a distant prospect.
Aid groups accuse the government of forcing civilians to flee Tiger areas by shelling and deliberately blocking aid.
“The military and government are blocking the flow of aid into Tiger areas which is a violation of the cease-fire,” Jeevan Thiagarajah of the Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies said late on Thursday. “We can’t reach people in need.”
The government is also under pressure to allow independent experts take part in a probe into the execution-style killing of 17 local staff of international aid group Action Contre La Faim. Some relatives of the dead blame the army for the killings.
The army denies any involvement in the killings of the aid workers, and blames the rebels.