18 Killed in S.Lanka Sea Attack, Rebels
Deny Role |
March 21, 2003 10:45 AM ET
By Lindsay Beck
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels sank a
Chinese trawler and 18 crew members were missing and presumed
dead, Sri Lankan military officials said on Friday.
News of Thursday's attack off the island republic's
northeast coast emerged as government and rebel negotiators
were wrapping up a sixth round of peace talks in Japan aimed
at ending their 19-year civil war over a separate state for
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) denied
involvement, after initial reports that the rebels had
apparently mistaken the boat for a Sri Lankan navy vessel. The
trawler was Sri Lankan-registered with Chinese crew, and was
flying Sri Lankan flags.
"The LTTE had informed the SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission) that none of their gunboats were in the area... The
LTTE had also informed the SLMM that they were not involved in
the incident in any way," the pro-rebel Tamilnet Web site
The SLMM is comprised of Nordic officials monitoring the
truce between the rebels and the government.
The fishing company whose vessel was attacked said there
were 27 people on board the trawler and nine were rescued by a
second Chinese fishing boat. The navy said of the dead, 15
were Chinese nationals and two were Sri Lankan.
"We are carrying out a search and rescue operation, but we
believe those not rescued yet have been killed," navy
spokesman Jayantha Perera said.
Local media reports had said the rebels were planning an
attack in retaliation for a clash this month in which the navy
sank a rebel ship it suspected of carrying weapons, killing
all 11 people on board.
That clash threw into question peace talks that began after
a Norwegian-brokered truce was agreed in February last year,
but the two sides met as scheduled for talks in Japan this
The SLMM truce monitors could not verify whether the Tamil
Tigers were involved in Thursday's attack, but survivors they
interviewed said they were attacked at night with machinegun
fire by several fast-moving boats.
"Some raised their hands to surrender, but the firing
continued so they jumped into the sea. The injured have
gunshot wounds," said Teitur Torkelsson, the spokesman for the
Local media sources said the trawlers were attacked with
rocket-propelled grenades small-arms fire.
They said because the attack took place before dawn on
Thursday, it was unlikely the attackers could make out the
identity of those on board.