| Government soldiers patrol outside the naval base in Galle on Wednesday. (AP)
Colombo, Oct. 18 (Reuters): Fifteen Tamil Tiger rebels were killed today when they attacked a naval base in southern Sri Lanka, triggering brief looting of minority Tamil shops in the area and dealing a fresh blow to a battered peace process.
The apparent suicide mission, which killed one navy sailor, further dimmed hopes ahead of planned peace talks between the government and the LTTE in Geneva on October 28-29.
Today’s attack on the Dakshina base in Galle came two days after nearly 100 people, mostly navy sailors, were killed in a suicide bombing on a convoy in a north-central district.
“Five Sea Tiger boats ... disguised as fishing boats arrived to attack the Dakshina naval base,” the defence ministry said.
“The navy destroyed ... three suicide boats and the other two approached the Galle harbour, self-detonating at the entrance,” it said.
Military officers and the pro-rebel website www.tamilnet.com said 15 rebels were on the boats. One navy sailor was killed, and 15 wounded, the military added.
Smoke billowed from two or three spots on the sea front after the explosions and dozens of residents gathered on a road by the beach as troops took position, witnesses said.
News of the raid sparked minor looting in Galle, with some Sinhala criminal gangs targeting two shops belonging to the minority Tamil community, residents and police said.
Police opened fire in the air and dispersed the mobs before bringing the situation under control, they said.
Elsewhere, at least 20 vehicles being driven by Tamils and minority Muslims were stoned and damaged by Sinhala gangs in the north-central region where Monday’s suicide attack took place, Tamilnet said.
Galle is a tourist town about 110 km south of the capital, Colombo, far from the northern and eastern strongholds of the rebels where much of the violence in the Indian Ocean island has been concentrated.
Today’s attack was the first such in the scenic coastal region which is popular with foreign tourists. The port at Galle, home to a 17th Century Dutch-built fort which is now a world heritage site, is also one of Sri Lanka’s oldest and biggest.
Yesterday, the government and the LTTE reiterated their commitment to talks in Geneva, but few expect the talks to achieve a breakthrough in the face of continued fighting.
Tiger political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan blamed the government for the fighting. “Colombo drew first blood, launching major offensives and air strikes into our territory ... even after we made it clear that we were serious about the talks in Geneva.”