Sri Lanka Presses Offensive After Tamil Guerrillas Bomb Oil Depots

Associated Press

The government pressed ahead Friday with its campaign to capture the stronghold of Tamil rebels who attacked the country's two main oil depots overnight.

A seven-member guerrilla squad blew up oil storage tanks in the capital, Colombo, before dawn Friday, sending thousands of people fleeing in panic and spewing columns of oily smoke into the air.

The fires caused more than $20 million in damages and lost oil, said Anil Obeysekere, chairman of Ceylon Petroleum Corp.

At least 23 soldiers and police officers and three rebels were killed in fighting around the depots, and 37 people, including a British journalist, were wounded. Four rebels and a rebel sympathizer were arrested.

Deputy Defense Minister Anuruddha Ratwatta told Parliament that the depot attacks would not halt the 4-day-old offensive in the rebel-held Jaffna Peninsula, 185 miles north of Colombo.

Since Tuesday, thousands of troops supported by tanks, warplanes and gunboats have advanced on the peninsula to try to capture the city of Jaffna, headquarters of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The Tigers are fighting for a Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. About 36,000 people have been killed in the 12-year-old insurgency.

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