05/12/2006, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Talks between international observers and Tamil Tigers today after rebels and Navy clash at sea

A violent sea battle off the coast near Jaffna left 57 people dead among Tamil rebels and Sri Lankan military. Tamil Tigers threaten truce observers, warning them that if they board Navy vessels they are at risk.

Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) led by Norway has begun emergency talks with Tamil Tiger rebels after a sea battle between government and rebel forces off the coast near Jaffna. The clash was the fiercest since 2002 when truce brought to an end 20 years of civil war.

Yesterday the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) warned peace monitors not to board navy vessels and that if they did, the Tigers would not be responsible for the consequences.

The announcement came after the bloody naval battle that left more than 50 people dead. Military sources said 17 troops and more than 40 rebels were killed.

Navy spokesman Commander DKP Dassanayake said that a Navy vessel was destroyed by a Tiger boat laden with explosives. The Navy responded sinking five rebel boats and warplanes bombed some areas under rebel control.

The Tamilnet website reported that three sites near Kilinochchi were hit but did not mention any casualties.

Sri Lankan armed forces also fired artillery shells and some rockets from the direction of the Trincomalee harbour towards Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in the north-eastern province.

Contrary to government claims, Tamil Tigers blame the navy for the attack against Tiger vessels exercising in the sea.

The Navy fast attack craft was sunk as it escorted a ship transporting 710 soldiers and a SLMM observer.

The SLMM team, made up mostly of Scandinavian observers charged with monitoring the truce, accused the rebels of violating the ceasefire, arguing that they are not entitled to access to sea, which is a government-controlled area.

Tamil Tigers accused the Sri Lankan navy of using truce monitors as human shields and in a letter to the SLMM published on their website, stated: "We urge you for the last time not to be on board Sri Lankan Naval vessels until further notice from us. If you choose to ignore our warning and request, we are not responsible for the consequences."

The LTTE are fighting for autonomy in the predominantly-Tamil north-eastern part of Sri Lanka, an area they largely control, in a country where ethnic Sinhalese are in the majority.

Last February, they quit peace talks with the government indefinitely.

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