Shutdown in Jaffna to protest LTTE attack on merchant ships (Lead)

October 23rd, 2008 - 10:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Oct 23 (IANS) Life came to a standstill in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna peninsula Thursday in response to a shutdown called to protest a suicide attack by the Tamil Tiger rebels on two cargo vessels a day ago. A Sri Lankan cargo vessel was damaged when the Tamil Tiger rebels Wednesday carried a pre-dawn-suicide boat attack targeting two government merchant vessels off the Kankesanthurai harbour in the north.

Reports from Jaffna said that normal activity in the northern peninsula was badly affected Thursday with schools, government departments and business institutions closed. Public transport was also off the roads.

However, the Jaffna Teaching Hospital remained functional.

The anti-LTTE Eelam People Democratic Party (EPDP), which organised the shut down, said 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”.

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 confrontation at sea, 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 military targets as they were deployed to transport to essential supplies, including dhal, flour and sugar. The hartal was organised to demonstrate democratically the people’s condemnation on the LTTE attack,” Devananda, an open critique of the LTTE, told IANS.

The Sri Lankan Navy said that three explosive-laden suicide boats of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) targeted merchant ships Ruhuna and Nimalawa off Kankesanthurai (KKS) harbour at 5.10 a.m. Wednesday.

Claiming that the LTTE attempt was thwarted by sailors providing security on board the targeted vessels, the navy however, said that “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 in Kankesanthurai, Jaffna.

“The supply ship was sunk and another vessel, MV Ruhuna, sustained heavy damage,” the Tigers said Wednesday, adding that two senior LTTE cadres, including the deputy leader of the Sea Tigers’ female wing had carried out the suicide attack.

The LTTE claims were flatly denied by defence ministry.

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