Colombo, March 10 (Reuters): The Sri Lankan navy sank a Tamil Tiger rebel ship suspected of smuggling weapons today, killing 11 on board after an exchange of fire off the island’s north-east coast that also wounded four sailors.
The incident, the deadliest since a ceasefire was signed last February and the second at sea in the past two months, comes as the two sides prepare for a sixth round of talks to end their 19-year war.
“Eleven of our cadres, including the ship’s captain, were killed when the vessel caught fire and sank after being attacked by the Sri Lankan navy,” rebel political wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan said in an open letter to the defence minister.
“The incident occurred in international waters beyond the jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan navy. We wish to emphasise that this grave incident will have far reaching implications for the peace process,” the letter said. The navy said it acted in self-defence after it tried to stop the boat, having received intelligence it was carrying arms. The ship was approaching the island’s north-east coast when the incident occurred, the navy said. “We asked the ship to stop and it didn’t, so then we started firing across the bow to warn them. They started firing back, and four of our men are injured,” navy spokesman Jayantha Perera said.