Deadly plan to blast Colombo port

*Explosives were to be fixed to eight ships, suicide bombers nabbed
*Diversionary attack by Sea Tigers on Navy base at Pesalai
*At least 11 sailors and 25-30 LTTE cadres killed as 7,000 civilians flee

By Asif Fuard & Chris Kamalendran

A Tiger guerrilla plot to attack eight different ships in the Colombo Port came a cropper for two consecutive days due to rough seas and their plans going awry. Eight different explosive packages with timing devices and magnets attached were to be used in this attack.

Last morning one guerrilla died after swallowing a cyanide capsule. A second is warded at the Welisara hospital. Three others who were on a boat were arrested on the high seas by the Navy. On the boat, among other things, were: frogmen’s kits, oxygen cylinders, mobile telephones, a Global Positioning System (GPS), two timed-explosive devices, a passport, two National Identity Cards and cash.

Underwater gear apparently intended for the Tiger attack on the Colombo Port being checked by security forces personnel at the Pamunugama beach yesterday. Pix by M. A. Pushpakumara & Ravindra Liyanage

Those in custody have begun baring details of the Tiger guerrilla plans to cause mayhem in the Colombo Port, an exercise which, if successful, would have caused enormous damage to the nation’s economy. They had tried to carry out the attacks on Friday but found the seas too rough to move in their boats. Thereafter, things went wrong yesterday partly due to rough seas.

A second incident in the Gulf of Mannar, said to be a diversion, timed for the attacks on the ships, saw gun battles between the Sea Tigers and the Sri Lanka Navy. Eleven sailors were killed. Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda said at least 25 to 30 guerrillas were killed. He said eight of their boats were destroyed.

In the resultant melee, both Tiger guerrillas and military officials traded allegations against each other over the death of a woman inside a church and the killing of four fishermen on the beach at Pesalai near Mannar. Two more bodies were found in the vicinity, reports said. Forty four civilians were injured.

Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said the Government would conduct an inquiry to ascertain the circumstances under which the attacks on civilians occurred. “It is only after it is over that we will know how it took place,” he said yesterday.

Details of the planned attack on eight ships in the Colombo Port began to unravel after residents along the coast of Pamunugama heard a loud explosion at sea. Thereafter, residents had seen two suspicious persons swimming and coming ashore. One had bitten a cyanide capsule. When Police arrived, upon being alerted, the second person had swallowed a cyanide capsule.

The first died whilst the other was admitted to the Welisara hospital. Within barely 35 minutes after the first explosion, a second blast was heard. Police who are conducting investigations have learnt that two explosive packages had been destroyed. Besides the two found on the boat, two were discovered by fishermen in Wennappuwa.

Late last night another explosive package was found at Dungalpitiya in Pamunugama and defused.

After Police were told of the find, Special Task Force (STF) commandos took charge of them. One more packages is still missing.

A magnetic sea mine detected at Wennappuwa.

Sri Lanka Navy rushed patrols from SLNS Rangala, their main establishment in Colombo. Two Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) ran into rough seas. One capsized. Two sailors were rescued and three were reported missing. Navy personnel arrested a guerrilla wearing a frogman’s kit and swimming at sea.

Thereafter a Navy patrol seized the guerrilla boat with three cadres on board.

Security measures in and around the Colombo Port were immediately strengthened. Whilst Army units have moved into areas on ground, Navy patrols in the waters outside the port area have been stepped up.

According to reports from Mannar, a flotilla of Sea Tiger boats had ordered fishermen not to set out on their tasks yesterday morning. Many who were at sea were told to withdraw. On learning this, three Navy Fibre Glass Dinghy (FGB) patrols had moved in to find at least 11 Sea Tiger boats in the area. They came under attack.

The incident has led to civilians fleeing their homes.

Mannar’s Government Agent M. Vishvalingam told The Sunday Times that 7,000 persons had fled to the Church of Our Lady of Victories after the fighting. He said there were fears they could cross the Palk Straits and go to India. He said he had brought this to the attention of the Government.

LTTE warns of retaliation

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has threatened military retaliation over what it calls provocative aerial bombing by the Sri Lanka Air Force and attacks on their camps, according to their Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan.

A message to this effect has been conveyed to the Government through the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and Norway’s Ambassador Hans Brattskar, the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet reported yesterday.

SLMM spokesman Thorfinnur Omarsson last night confirmed that the LTTE had conveyed its message to the monitors.



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