COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s Navy said it destroyed two Tamil Tiger suicide boats that tried to ram a pair of freighters full of aid supplies on Wednesday, while diplomatic pressure from India over its war appeared to cool.
The rebels said they had sunk one of the ships, which they said were carrying military supplies, and inflicted heavy damage on the other. The military said one ship was slightly damaged.
Also on Wednesday, warnings surfaced from a group calling itself the Mahasohon Balakaya, or Ghost Force in the Sinhalese language, that lawyers defending Tamils accused in anti-terrorism cases would be killed.
The letters were sent on Tuesday to human rights lawyers and court registrars, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission. Mahasohon Balakaya said it was defending the thousands of innocent people who had been killed or maimed by Tiger bombings.
“Be warned that meting out the same fate to you in the name of our motherland would be a favour we would render to the entire nation,” a copy of the letter seen by Reuters says.
The latest suicide attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) comes as Sri Lanka’s government is pressing an offensive it is confident will soon end a war that has raged off and on for 25 years on the Indian Ocean island.
The navy said it fired on three LTTE boats that tried ram the freighters Nimalawa and Ruhuna. Two rebel boats exploded, the third capsized and six Tigers were killed, the navy said.
“Due to the nearby explosions, one ship got minor damage, but both are floating without casualties,” navy spokesman Commander D.K.P. Dassanayaka said. At a later news briefing, he showed a picture of part of the Nimalawa that was blackened in the blast.
“The LTTE has once again ... demonstrated that the well-being of the Tamil people it claims to represent is furthest from their concern,” Government Information Director Anusha Palpita said in a statement.
The LTTE later said two of its “Black Sea Tigers” suicide fighters died while sinking the Nimalawa, the pro-rebel website www.TamilNet.com said.
It quoted unnamed LTTE officials who said the Nimalawa was carrying “military and other supplies”.
The attack occurred north of Mullaittivu, an LTTE stronghold on Sri Lanka’s northeastern coast not far from where the majority of a U.N.-estimated 230,000 refugees are trapped between a military they do not trust and rebels who will not let them leave.
Sri Lanka’s offensive has shown no sign of slowing amid pressure from India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week urged a political solution, after Tamil legislators from southern India threatened his ruling coalition with defections.
India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told parliament on Wednesday that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s influential brother, Basil, would soon visit India.
“We have been assured that the safety and well-being of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka will be taken care of,” he said. “The rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE.”
India, home to most of the world’s 77 million Tamils, has insisted that decades-old Tamil grievances be addressed through a political process, which Sri Lanka says it will do through elections once it recaptures northern Sri Lanka from the LTTE.
The Tamil Tigers since 1983 have fought a war to create a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils, battling successive governments led by the Sinhalese majority that has ruled the island since it became independent from Britain 60 years ago.
Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal