On the brink of capturing the entire rebel-held territory, Sri Lankan troops killed at least 150 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres in the island's embattled north, where a ship carrying biggest-ever food supplies for displaced civilians was ambushed by suspected guerrillas, officials said on Sunday.
"We are estimating that 150 LTTE [Images] cadres have been killed during the fierce weekend clashes in Mullaittivu district," a senior Defence Ministry official said. "Bodies of 80 Tiger rebels have been recovered so far in these confrontations." The casualties for the LTTE came amidst fierce resistance by the rebel units in Chalai, Pattikkirai and Puthukudirrippu.
Heavy combat, which erupted over the weekend, suggested that the rebels, now confined to less than 50 sq kms of area, were desperately trying to resist advancing Sri Lankan army. In subsequent search operations in the Puthukudirippu area, troops recovered "a large haul of war material" on Sunday, the Media Centre for National Security said.
Meanwhile, suspected LTTE rebels launched a heavy artillery attack on a government ship carrying 500 metric tonnes of food supplies for the displaced people. The ship, MV Bintan, carrying cargo from Trincomalee to Putumatlan in Mullaittivu came under shelling by suspected rebels during unloading, the army said.
The ship had cast off from Trincomalee on Saturday with the biggest shipment dispatched for the Internally Displaced
Persons since the beginning of the humanitarian war in the North. The ship had reached Putumatalan around 7.30 am local time yesterday and had unloaded 142 tonnes when the attack took place.
The unprovoked attack compelled the ship's captain to penetrate the vessel further into the deep sea, where the bad
weather conditions aggravated the situation, the MCNS said. No damage to the ship has been reported so far.
The supplies included 399 tonnes of flour, 61 tonnes of dal, 1400 tonnes of kerosene, 20 tonnes of sugar and 21 tonnes of vegetable oils, a statement said.
Since Saturday, the LTTE's elite Charles Anthony Brigade and Radha Regiment have been attempting to attack the army's frontline, the Defence Ministry said.
In a separate incident, troops recovered bodies of two LTTE cadres in Mullaitivu, besides seizing 15 T-56 weapons and other arms, it said. LTTE uniforms and 250 rounds of T-56 ammunition were also recovered from Visuamadu, Kachchilamadu, Komanthurai east and Puthukudirippu, the military said.
In another incident, Sri Lankan troops clashed with the Tiger rebels in the Chalai area yesterday, the Media Centre
for National Security said. The soldiers, operating along the narrow coastal strip of Chalai, retaliated and repulsed the LTTE attack after a fierce gun-battle. In the subsequent search operations, security forces recovered body of an LTTE cadre, one T-56 weapon, three T-56 magazines, one Global Positioning System and a hand grenade.