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Tamil Rebel Ship Sinks After Confrontation with Sri Lankan Navy - 2003-06-14


In Sri Lanka, a ship belonging to Tamil Tiger rebels has been sunk after a confrontation with the navy, and the fate of 12 crew members aboard the rebel vessel is unknown. The incident comes amid a stalemate in the peace process aimed at ending the island nation's long-running ethnic violence.

There are conflicting versions as to what exactly caused the sinking of the Tamil rebel ship on the high seas near the northeastern port of Trincomalee.

The Sri Lankan government says a navy patrol boat challenged a Tamil Tiger ship that was being towed by a smaller rebel boat towards the coast. Officials say the navy craft ordered the ship to stop, and fired warning shots when it failed to respond. They say moments later, the ship exploded and sank.

The government has in the past accused the rebels of blowing up their own vessels when they are caught smuggling weapons and arms.

But rebels later told Norwegian truce monitors the ship sank after it came under fire from the navy outside Sri Lankan territorial waters. They say the crew on the boat jumped off the vessel moments before it was hit.

The monitors have confirmed only that a rebel ship sank due to an explosion. They are investigating the incident. This is the third rebel ship to be sunk after a clash with the navy this year.

The incident is likely to intensify tensions at a time when the rebels, officially known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have suspended peace talks with the government.

In six rounds of peace talks starting this year, the rebels have agreed to give up on demands for a separate homeland in the northeast of the country for the Tamil minority, and to settle for political autonomy instead. But they are now refusing to resume the dialogue unless they are allowed to establish an interim administration in Tamil-dominated areas.

However, they say they remain committed to a negotiated settlement to the two-decade old ethnic conflict that had killed 60,000 people before a ceasefire was signed last year.

In a separate incident on Saturday, a senior Tamil politician opposed to the Tamil rebels was shot dead by a sniper in his office in the northern town of Jaffna. Kandiah Subathiran was an outspoken critic of the rebels, and his death was the latest in a series of killings of mainstream Tamil politicians, which some have blamed on the rebels.

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