|Tuesday, 11 March 2003|
|Security||Today's Top Story|
by Ranil Wijayapala and Ranga Jayasuriya
The Navy yesterday sank what was classified as an LTTE cargo vessel in the seas off Mullaitivu after an exchange of fire, defence sources said.
Eleven LTTE cadres perished aboard the nameless and flagless craft which caught fire after the Navy's 'Sayura' fired at it. The LTTE later confirmed that eleven of its cadres died in the clash.
Three sailors - one of them critically - and an officer on board Sayura were injured in the brief exchange. The Sayura's control room was damaged in the attack.
"Sri Lanka Navy received credible information on March 9 that an LTTE vessel carrying warlike material was approaching the Mullaitivu coast with the aim of unloading weapons at mid sea into small boats," the Defence Ministry said in media release last night.
The Navy vessel Sayura which was on a routine patrol in the area was instructed to investigate and it challenged the suspicious ship 185 nautical miles off East of Mullaitivu.
The LTTE ship had no name or flag. The Navy had tried to communicate with the ship through the international maritime communications channel.
Since the responses received were "vague and contradictory", the Navy had ordered the vessel to stop "in order to satisfy itself that it did not pose a serious threat to the national security," the release said.
The suspicious vessel ignoring the command to stop, attempted to escape. The Navy approached the suspected vessel at close range when the suspicious vessel opened fire resulting in injury to three sailors and one officer, according to the release.
"The SLN Sayura then took retaliatory action in the exercise of the right to self defence for the purpose of protecting vital interests involving the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity," it added.
The ship caught fire and sank. The incident took place around 10 am yesterday 185 nautical miles off Mullaitivu in the exclusive economic zone.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission's Deputy Chief Hagrup Haukland said the LTTE had admitted that the ship concerned was a LTTE "merchant vessel".
"The LTTE has informed us that the ship was a LTTE merchant vessel. They (the LTTE) had expressed serious concern that the ship had been sunk in international waters," Haukland said
Haukland however said the SLMM had "no clear picture on the incident since no monitor was on the spot at the moment".
An SLMM monitor had been dispatched to the spot aboard a Navy vessel, he said.
Defence Secretary Austin Fernando, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri and SLMM Chief Triggve Tellefssen will meet this afternoon to discuss the incident in detail, a Defence Ministry official said.
Meanwhile, LTTE Political Wing Chief Thamilchelvam in a letter to Defence Minister Tilak Marapana had condemned the incident as " a grave violation of the ceasefire agreement as the (LTTE) vessel was not involved in any illegal action".
"We wish to emphasize that this grave incident will have far reaching implications for the peace process," Thamilchelvam said claiming that the incident had occurred in the international waters beyond the jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan Navy.
He said eleven LTTE cadres including the ship's captain were killed in the incident. The vessel was attacked without any provocation, he added.
"Please convey our deep displeasure over this matter to your Government," Thamilchelvam said in the letter.
This is the second major incident since LTTE cadres aboard a trawler carrying an anti-aircraft gun blew themselves up in the sea off Delft islands.
SLMM monitors aboard the trawler were forced to jump into the sea when the three cadres identified by the LTTE as two colonels and a captain blew themselves up ending a nearly 20 hours standoff with the Navy which seized the trawler on the suspicion that it was engaged in arms smuggling.
Produced by Lake House