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LTTE uses human-shield fishermen as
Monitors commit 'terrible mistake'
By Shelani Perera
Navy's interception of two fishing trawlers carrying military hardware in the seas off Batticaloa led to Tiger guerrillas using fishermen as 'human shields'. It has now come to light that they not only took cover behind their vessels to fire at Naval craft but also took into custody groups of fishermen. They landed ashore in their midst and made good their escape, according to high-ranking Navy officials.

They handed over 35 fishermen to members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in Batticaloa. The Monitoring Mission yesterday said they were awaiting reports from the Sri Lanka Navy and the LTTE on the incident off the shores of Vakarai last Wednesday before making any comment.

"Once we get the reports we will examine the incident but we will not investigate the incident. The incident occurred in the sea and we do not have the facilities to investigate," Deputy Head Hagrup Hauckland declared yesterday. Mr. Hauckland said however they had received information that the LTTE had claimed that it did not lose any boats but some fishing boats were involved in the incident.

On Friday, the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet quoted Sinhala and Muslim fishermen as claiming that a Navy gun boat had fired at a fishing trawler. The fishermen claim that fisherman Mohammed Sabeek died on the spot , while two others swam ashore amidst heavy fighting. The trawler blew up. The fishermen also claim that the Navy had fired at another trawler, the Tamilnet said.

However the military reiterated its claim that the boats were LTTE craft and that one had blown itself up. The military in a statement said explosives and ammunition were found from the scene of the attack in the presence of a member of the international monitoring team. Meanwhile the Monitoring Mission's failure to convey to the Government the intimation that a Sea Tiger flotilla would move from near Mullaitivu to Batticaloa was a "terrible mistake", Mr. Hauckland said yesterday.

"Our Kilinochchi office was notified of the incident but the mistake was made at the headquarters because it took down misleading notes on the incident and we did not notify the Government. This was a mistake from our side and we later informed the Government of our mistake," he told The Sunday Times. Mr. Hauckland was commenting on the incident where the Sri Lanka Navy intercepted a Sea Tiger flotilla of three boats said to be heading from near Mullaitivu southwards to Vakarai near Batticaloa. The Sea Tiger vessels - a logistics vessel and two attack craft - were trapped in a Naval cordon near Foul Point, South of Trincomalee, for over five hours.

During this period, a sea plane carrying guerrilla chief negotiator Anton Balasingham and party from the Iranamadu tank to the Maldivian capital of Male, diverted course and flew over the naval cordon, thus risking attack both by the Navy and Air Force. Both the interception of the Sea Tiger flotilla as well as overflying of the sea planes could have led to an explosive situation wrecking the peace talks, if the security forces took retaliatory action. However, their cautious response prevented an untoward situation.

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