Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka bombs Tigers, puts security before truce

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By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO, May 7 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's air force bombed a Tamil Tiger training camp near the rebels' northern stronghold on Monday, officials said, as the government vowed to put national security before a tattered truce with the insurgents.

The military said air force jets pounded the site south of the Tigers' de facto capital of Kilinochchi in the island's far north, but had no details on any casualties. The Tigers were not immediately available for comment.

Defence spokesman and minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the government would breach the terms of a 2002 ceasefire -- which has broken down on the ground but still technically holds on paper -- if necessary to safeguard national security.

He said the government had also asked mediator Norway to re-examine the truce pact to see if it should be axed. Officials have long argued it conceded too much to the Tigers and many privately say it should be abandoned.

"(The ceasefire) has been violated over 10,000 times. As far as we are concerned national security is utmost, and we will not compromise with national security," Rambukwella told a media briefing.

While committed to the truce, the government reserved the right to act as needed for security, even if that resulted in further violations, he added.

Rambukwella said the air force would step up spy plane flights over rebel territory, which are truce violations in themselves.

Both the government and the Tigers have repeatedly ignored international community calls to halt a new chapter in the island's two-decade civil war, and Rambukwella's comments come after Britain last week withheld millions of dollars in aid citing human rights and defence spending concerns.

Monday's air strike comes after a series of land and sea clashes that have killed dozens of troops and rebels in recent weeks as a conflict that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 deepens.

It also comes after a rebel air raid on oil facilities north of the capital a week ago, which the Tigers warned would be followed by more attacks using their air force of converted light aircraft smuggled into the country in pieces as they fight on for a separate state for minority Tamils.

"Neither side are respecting the ceasefire, and that does not bode well for hopes of returning to a meaningful peace process," said Thorfinnur Omarsson of the unarmed Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.

"But it's still not too late to save the ceasefire agreement."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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