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Sri Lankan Ship Repels Rebel Attack

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From Times Wire Services

A Sri Lankan ship carrying more than 1,200 government troops survived a suicide attack Sunday, fighting off a flotilla of Tamil Tiger guerrilla boats in a fierce sea battle.

At least 11 soldiers were killed and 47 wounded before the rebels were driven back, the Defense Ministry said. An additional 12 soldiers were missing after the fighting, which the military said killed 15 rebels.

“It was a big attack, but our air force, navy and the soldiers on board managed to beat back the terrorists,” military spokesman Sanath Karunaratne said.

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The ship, named the Pride of the South, had been surrounded by more than 20 rebel boats, some of them packed with explosives, about 26 miles off the northern port of Point Pedro, Karunaratne said.

According to state radio, air force and naval units destroyed four of the rebel boats in the battle, which raged for more than an hour.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka’s north and east, where they say they are discriminated against by the Sinhalese majority. Tamils make up about 18% of Sri Lanka’s 17 million citizens, and the conflict has killed more than 60,000 people.

Fighting has escalated sharply since July 24, when the Tigers devastated the country’s only international airport in a suicide attack that destroyed a dozen commercial and military aircraft.

Sunday’s attack was the second in 24 hours by the Sea Tigers, the rebels’ naval wing. Late Saturday, the rebels blew up a suicide boat at the mouth of the eastern port of Trincomalee, damaging one of the navy’s Israeli-built Dvora gunboats.

The attacks appeared to signal the collapse of a Norwegian-brokered bid to end the fighting, and rhetoric between the two sides escalated over the weekend.

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The rebels accused the government of trying to exploit last week’s terror attacks in the U.S. for political gain, and they denied state media reports that the rebel group had issued a statement praising the assaults in America that have left more than 5,000 dead or missing.

The Tigers condemned the attacks.

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