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Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo
"Some people are still believed to be missing"
 real 28k

Monday, 26 June, 2000, 21:26 GMT 22:26 UK
Tigers attack merchant ship
Local boat
The army hires private boats to transport essentials
Sri Lanka's navy is continuing a search operation for seven seamen missing after a Tamil Tiger suicide attack on a merchant vessel.

The ship Mercs Uhana, was carrying relief supplies to the northern Jaffna peninsula when a boat laden with explosives rammed into it.

The vessel was badly damaged in the attack, and the rebels say six of their fighters died.

The Tigers say the ship was carrying arms to government troops, while the government says that it was ferrying food and other non-military emergency supplies to the peninsula's 1.5 million civilians.

A government statement said 21 crewmen were rescued, while a search operation was under way for seven others.

During the search, navy craft came under attack by a flotilla of Tamil Tiger boats triggering a pre-dawn sea battle, a navy spokesman said.

The navy spokesman said one rebel boat was crippled and eventually sank.

Supply lines

The damage to the cargo ship is a setback to the government's efforts to keep the supply lines open to the northern Jaffna peninsula.

Local fishermen
Fishermen have also been killed in the fighting
The vessel is one of many privately-owned boats requisitioned by the Sri Lankan armed forces to transport essential supplies to the area.

In recent weeks, aid agencies have expressed concern about the plight of civilians as fighting in northern Sri Lanka has intensified.

Air and sea links

The rebels control the land route to Jaffna, which means that the Sri Lankan armed forces rely on air and sea links to arm and feed around 40,000 security personnel in addition to the civilian population in the north.

Those supply lines are under constant attack by the rebels.

In June, Tamil Tiger rebels carried out a similar suicide attack on a Sri Lankan gun boat which was sunk.

That incident was made all the more difficult for the authorities because they accidentally sank one of their own boats while attempting to return fire.

The battle to control the supply lines now looks likely to be a key part of the continuing conflict between the government and the Tigers to control the Jaffna peninsula.

Fighting on the ground has reached a stalemate in recent days.

The army appears to have stalled rapid Tamil Tiger advances made earlier this year.

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18 Jun 00 | South Asia
Tigers kept off devolution councils
05 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sea battle in Sri Lanka
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