Colombo, Feb. 16 (Reuters): Tamil Tiger rebels shot dead a Sri Lankan army soldier who they said trespassed into their territory in violation of a truce that has been keeping the warring sides at arm’s length after 19 years of civil war.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a statement released late last night that the soldier was killed by a female combat unit when he tried to throw a hand grenade after being discovered in rebel-controlled territory in the northern Jaffna peninsula.
“Two soldiers managed to disappear inside the no-man’s land... The women cadres opened fire when the third soldier stopped and tried to throw a hand grenade,” the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said.
The two sides have been sticking to the terms of the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire for nearly one year and meeting for direct talks, but several violations over the last few weeks are raising concerns about the stability of the peace process.
The military confirmed the death of one soldier and said he had gone missing from his camp after a quarrel with another soldier last week, but denied the rebels’ allegations he had crossed into their areas.
“The fact that the three soldiers had gone towards the LTTE Forward Defence Line is denied by the army,” the military said in a statement.
Neutral monitors overseeing the truce appeared to back up the Tigers in part, saying the soldier had been found in Tiger-held territory, but that the grenade was lying on the ground next to him and had apparently not been thrown.
The rebels, who have been fighting for self-determination for the Tamil minority, said they were preparing to hand the body to the army through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Tigers killed another soldier several months ago after he ran across enemy lines in what was considered an act of madness, but yesterday’s shooting comes amid a string of incidents that highlight the gulf that remains between the two sides.
Three Tiger weapons smugglers blew themselves up at sea on the eve of the last round of peace talks in Berlin on February 7, and riot police clashed with pro-rebel demonstrators last week after a scuffle over military belts worn by female cadres.
Pressure from the rebels also halted a reopening ceremony of the Jaffna Library, a cultural icon of the country’s Tamils that was burned down by Sinhalese police and thugs in 1981.