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The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo
"More than 20 sailors are missing"
 real 28k

Monday, 5 June, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Sea battle in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan army patrol
A peace effort was under way before the latest fighting
Two Sri Lankan navy gunboats have been destroyed in fresh fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The Sri Lankan defence ministry said four Tamil Tiger boats were sunk in the clash off the north-east coast.

Eleven sailors have been rescued and 23 were still missing, a military spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the government has lifted restrictions on the foreign media in place since early May.

Domestic media reports, however, will continue to be censored.

Sea clash

The two Israeli-build Dvora attack crafts were said to be on patrol when they came upon a cluster of rebel boats.

The two gunboats were destroyed by the Tamil Tigers in the ensuing battle.

Sri Lankan newspaper
Local papers continue to be censored
Earlier officials said the second craft had been accidentally destroyed by an air force jet, but a defence ministry spokesman denied this.

The Sri Lankan armed forces have been buying Israeli-built modern weapons systems to boost their battle against the Tamil Tigers.

The Sri Lankan navy is reported to be buying gunboats fitted with guided missiles, and plans to upgrade its fleet of Dvora gunboats.

The state-run Daily News said the weapons would be used to strike at Tamil Tiger sea bases and hidden harbours.

Reports from the Jaffna peninsula say there has been sporadic fighting.

The government says the security forces have killed seven rebels in separate incidents.

Peace talks

The latest attack came as President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the Tigers could still enter peace talks - but added that she would not hold unconditional negotiations with them.

The president, who was speaking in a BBC interview, did not spell out what the conditions for the talks would be.

Norway had been trying to bring the two sides to the negotiating table before the latest offensive by the Tamil Tigers in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

"For six years, we have tried to talk with [the Tamil Tigers] and for six years they have lied," she said.

"They have deceived foreign countries and governments on the pretext that they are going to talk when actually they have refused to talk, and now there is no question of talking unless certain conditions are fulfilled," the president said.

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See also:

01 Jun 00 | South Asia
New weapons boost Sri Lankan army
05 May 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's tough laws condemned
03 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka lifts meeting ban
31 May 00 | South Asia
Tiger onslaught 'beaten back'
31 May 00 | South Asia
Taking refuge in Tamil Nadu
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