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Sri Lanka Rebels Attack Military Base, Kill 17 - 2001-08-21

Separatist rebels in Sri Lanka seriously damaged a military base near the eastern town, Ampara, in the early-morning hours of Tuesday, killing at least 17 people. Authorities are still assessing the damage.

Sri Lankan military officials say light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades hit the military camp in southeastern Sri Lanka after midnight. Over the course of a two-hour battle, much of the base was destroyed.

Sri Lankan military spokesperson Sanath Karanuratne says the Tamil Tiger rebels struck a police camp and an adjoining base of Sri Lanka's counter terrorist unit, the Special Task Force.

"Some of the STF personnel who were outside of the STF base ... managed to come from the rear and support the police personnel who were under attack in the meantime. By about 2:30 in the morning, the terrorists abandoned the place, said the spokesman.

Although officials are still taking stock of the damage, but Mr. Karanuratne said the camp's weapons storehouse is intact. Details of rebel casualties are not available. Speaking to VOA News, an officer in the Ampara police station said the camp was almost completely destroyed.

The camp is in southeastern Sri Lanka, hundreds of kilometers from the main theater of the country's civil war in the North. The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to establish homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority in the island's northern and eastern provinces. They control large amounts of territory in the East and attacks are not uncommon.

The attack indicates the increasing intensity of the conflict in Sri Lanka, which has claimed more than 64,000 lives. The military stepped up the bombing of rebel positions after Tiger suicide squads destroyed 12 military and civilian aircraft at Sri Lanka's main airbase and international airport last month. Both sides say they want a negotiated settlement to the conflict, but observers say Tuesday's attack reinforces a message from the rebels, that failing talks, they are willing to fight throughout the island.