Battles erupt in Sri Lanka's north; planes bomb Tamil areas in east
Rebel camps targeted; 61 combatants killed
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lankan troops battled Tamil Tigers in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, and the air force bombed rebel camps in the east yesterday in fighting that threatened a return to full-scale war on the island.
Two separate clashes were taking place on the peninsula, the traditional home of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils, a rebel spokesman said. Separately, the air force targeted an area in the Batticaloa district in the east, about 56 miles south of a waterway where the two sides have fought for the past two weeks.
``We are being attacked by Sri Lankan forces and we are defending our positions," Tamil Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said. ``Our soldiers are fighting with the great responsibility of saving our people."
Military spokesman Major Upali Rajapakse said the attack in Batticaloa was intended to neutralize ``terrorist camps." An air force official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of air force regulations, said the strike was carried out to stop Tamil rebels from moving to the waterway to support rebels there.
Battles on Thursday left 61 combatants dead at the waterway, according to the two sides.
The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for the country's 3.2 million Tamils, saying the ethnic minority can only prosper away from domination by the 14 million Sinhalese majority.
Norway has allocated $1.5 million in relief money.
``We will make certain that assistance is given to people who are suffering from this crisis," Aid Minister Erik Solheim said.
The United States, meanwhile, urged both sides to return to peace negotiations.
``Without political commitment and a spirit of compromise between both parties, there will be no end to the conflict," the U S Embassy in Colombo said.
Also yesterday, UN Undersecretary General Jan Egeland expressed sadness over the deaths of 17 aid workers from Action Against Hunger. Fifteen of the bodies were found yesterday, most of them face-down and with bullet wounds. Two more were found Monday in a car, apparently killed while trying to flee the violence.
``We're now demanding an independent investigation in Sri Lanka [into] how this could happen, execution-style, to humanitarian, unarmed workers," Egeland said.
The slayings of the workers -- one was Muslim, 16 were Tamils -- sparked international condemnation, and the government has ordered an investigation.