Thursday, May 18, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

23 killed in Lanka blast
Tigers inch closer to Jaffna

COLOMBO, May 17 (PTI) — At least 23 persons were killed and over 70 injured in a suspected LTTE bomb attack near a Buddhist temple in eastern Batticoloa today.

The powerful blast ripped through a crowded pandal where the people were celebrating Vesak, a Buddhist festival, officials here said.

The dead included six children and three Sri Lankan policemen.

The reports said the pandal was erected to celebrate the festival especially for the police and army personnel but was packed with civilians when the blast occurred.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast so far but officials said the blast could be a handiwork of LTTE.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan forces, backed by artillery, helicopter gunships and Israeli fighter jets, effectively repulsed several attacks by LTTE guerrillas near the embattled Jaffna town in which 42 Tamil rebels were killed. The state television showed a number of civilians, who were injured in the LTTE artillery attacks at Gurunagar, one of the suburbs of Jaffna town two days ago, undergoing treatment in a Jaffna hospital.

In another development, troops ambushed and killed three rebels in Welioya in the northern Vanni region. The LTTE, however, retaliated by killing a policeman attached to the eastern Batticaloa police station.

The LTTE claimed to have overrun a Sri Lankan military complex at Kaithady, 5 km from the entry point of Jaffna city, after a fierce battle lasting 12 hours.

In a statement in London it said Kaithady formed a crucial supply route for government troops in Jaffna city and Palaly airport.

LONDON (Reuters): Sri Lankan troops, battling to keep control of the northern Jaffna peninsula, were staving off fierce attacks by Tamil Tiger rebels on Wednesday.

Military officials said on the phone that LTTE rebels pressed on with attacks on army positions, pushing troops back in several places after launching what they said was their “decisive battle’’ for Jaffna on Monday.

The bloody fighting that resumed after a three-day lull saw the LTTE advance on two fronts — inching closer to Jaffna city and threatening Chavakachcheri, a town that lies about 15 km to its east.

The rebels said on Tuesday they had overrun military positions at Navatkuli and Thatchantoppu, just east of Jaffna city, and were advancing north to Kaithadi after launching a huge artillery and mortar bomb attack on the army base there.

The government, meanwhile, accused the LTTE of shelling heavily- populated areas in a bid to push out the city’s 100,000 civilians.

The state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation said on Wednesday the air force had bombed a rebel convoy carrying arms and supplies in the lagoon separating Jaffna peninsula and Pooneryn, which lies on a spur of land south across the waterway.

A military spokesman, Brigadier Palitha Fernando told Reuters in Colombo today that there was little fighting overnight and the rebels had taken heavy casualties in the fighting at Columbuthurai on the outskirts of Jaffna city.

He said troops were holding on to their new defence positions.

Sri Lankan Buddhists, who make up 70 per cent of the country’s population, meanwhile, marked the Buddha’s birthday today with a holiday as President Chandrika Kumaratunga called for peace and unity after 17 years of ethnic strife.

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