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Sri Lanka Destroys Rebel Boats in Sea Battle - 2001-09-23


Military officials in Sri Lanka say four rebel boats were destroyed and as many as 30 rebel fighters killed in a fierce sea battle on Sunday. The fighting came as U.S. officials reiterated America's support for the island's fight against terrorism.

A Sri Lankan military spokesman said Navy ships suffered only minor damage and no sailors were seriously wounded in a three-hour battle off the island's northeastern coast.

Sunday's battle comes one week after the rebel Tamil Tigers sank two Sri Lankan vessels during a major assault on a troop transport ship. Military sources say Sri Lanka's Navy and Air Force fended off several explosive-filled rebel suicide boats in that attack. At least 21 people died.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for a separate state in the north and east of Sri Lanka since 1983. The rebels have not commented on Sunday's attack, but a rebel statement did warn civilians not to travel in ships used to transport Sri Lankan troops. The war has claimed over 64,000 lives, and blocks all land routes between the north and south of the island.

Also on Sunday, the United States said in a statement that it continues to support Sri Lanka's fight against terrorism. The statement said that America agrees with the Sri Lankan government position that it must resist terrorism, while searching for a political solution to the civil conflict.

U.S. support for negotiation in Sri Lanka has come under criticism in local media since the United States began its own battle against terrorism, following the attacks in New York and Washington.

The rebels in Sri Lanka have specialized in suicide bombings, and Sri Lanka has suffered more suicide attacks than any other country. Washington declared the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization in 1997, one week before rebel suicide bombers hit the island's financial heart by plowing an explosive-laden truck into the twin towers of Sri Lanka's World Trade Center.

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