Shutdown in Jaffna to protest LTTE attack on merchant ships


Colombo : A shutdown to protest a suicide boat-attack by Tamil Tiger rebels on two cargo vessels brought normal life to a standstill Thursday in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna peninsula.

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A Sri Lankan cargo vessel was damaged when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealem (LTTE) Wednesday carried a pre-dawn suicide attack targeting two government merchant vessels off the Kankesanthurai harbour in the north.

According to reports, schools, government offices and business establishments observed a near complete shutdown. Public transportation also came to a halt. However, the Jaffna Teaching Hospital remained functional.

The anti-LTTE Eelam People Democratic Party (EPDP), which organised the shutdown, said the people in the Jaffna peninsula “have expressed their condemnation to the LTTE attack on ships carrying essential supplies to the north, by extending their fullest support to the hartal (shutdown)”.

The ex-militant EPDP is an ally of the ruling coalition and its leader Douglas Devananda is a key minister in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet.

Commenting on the latest attack, Devananda charged that the LTTE suicide attack on the ships was “clearly aimed at crippling the essential supplies to the north by sea,” which has become the lifeline after the closure of the Jaffna-Kandy main supply route in 2006.

“The ships were not the military targets as they were deployed to transport essential supplies, including dhal, flour and sugar. The hartal was organised to demonstrate democratically the people’s condemnation of the LTTE attack,” Devananda, an open critique of the LTTE, told IANS.

The Sri Lankan Navy said three explosive-laden suicide boats of the LTTE targeted merchant ships Ruhuna and Nimalawa at 5.10 a.m. Wednesday.

The navy, however, claimed that the LTTE attempt was thwarted by sailors providing security on board, but “one of the suicide boats has exploded in close proximity to Merchant Ship Nimalawa causing considerable damage to the ship’s hull”.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet website, quoting LTTE sources, claimed that the Sea Tigers carried out a “Black Tiger attack on Sri Lankan ship MV Nimalawa, which carried military and other supplies, in the Sri Lankan naval harbour of Kankesanthurai.

“The supply ship was sunk and another vessel, MV Ruhuna, sustained heavy damages,” the Tigers said.

It added that “two senior LTTE cadres, including the deputy leader of the Sea Tigers’ female wing, carried out the suicide attack.”

The LTTE claims were denied by the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry.