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Indian Troops, Rebels Clash in Sri Lanka

October 11, 1987|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Indian army troops engaged Tamil Tiger guerrillas in combat Saturday for the first time on the Jaffna Peninsula of northern Sri Lanka.

Indian officials said two Indian soldiers and 10 Tamils, members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, were killed in fighting outside the Jaffna Fort.

Sri Lanka government television, however, said eight Indian soldiers were killed in the first major confrontation since a 12,000-man Indian peacekeeping force began arriving on the island more than two months ago.

Officials said the battles were sparked by Indian house-to-house searches for weapons in Tamil Tiger-controlled neighborhoods.

TV, Newspapers Closed

Earlier Saturday, Indian army units seized a Tamil Tiger television station and closed two newspapers in Jaffna, a Tamil stronghold, as part of a crackdown on the militant group believed responsible for recent massacres of Sinhalese civilians, authorities reported.

Government spokesmen said Indian troops have now detained more than 200 Tamil militants, many from the powerful Liberation Tigers separatist organization, since stepping up their efforts to quell a wave of anti-Sinhalese violence in the northern and eastern provinces of this island nation.

However, attacks by Tamil rebels continued Saturday, particularly in the northeast Trincomalee district, which has a mixed Tamil and Sinhalese population.

Tamils, a minority in Sri Lanka, charge that they are discriminated against by the Sinhalese majority. The two ethnic groups have been involved in a four-year conflict that has erupted once again into violence despite the Indian troops brought to the island as part of a July 29 peace agreement.

In the small village of Garantalawa, near the port city of Trincomalee, nine Sinhalese civilians were killed Saturday in an attack by Tamils. Reporters who visited the Trincomalee area said that despite intensified Indian army efforts and a dusk-to-dawn curfew, refugees continued to stream into Sri Lankan government camps for protection.

In the troubled area around Batticaloa in the east, officials reported teams of Sri Lankan police and Indian troops making house-to-house raids seeking weapons held by the Tamils.

The July 29 peace agreement between India and Sri Lanka called for Tamil rebels to surrender their weapons in exchange for amnesty and the creation of a Tamil province in the north and east.

Officials said the raid on the Tamil Tiger television station was aimed at halting anti-Indian programs broadcast by the militant group. Before the peace agreement, the mobile television station was employed by the Tigers to broadcast reports of Sri Lankan government attacks, including helicopter and airplane assaults.

Since the agreement, the station has been used to broadcast protests against the Indians as well as the Sri Lankan government. For example, it recently broadcast the fast of a Tiger leader, Amirthalingam Thileepan, 23. Thileepan, already ailing from a wound suffered in fighting with Sri Lankan forces, refused to take food or water as a protest over the terms of the peace agreement. He died last week and became a martyr to the Tamil people.

Indian troops also closed two newspapers (Tamil groups asserted Saturday that they were burned down) that had recently opposed the Indian forces. Only a few weeks ago, the Indians were welcomed here as heroes, but recent days have seen a significant increase in anti-Indian propaganda.

"Among some Tamils in the north, distrust of the Indian government is almost as great as distrust of the Sri Lanka government," said Neelan Tiruchelvam, a moderate Tamil leader living in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

The raids on the television station and newspapers Saturday appeared to be aimed at disrupting the Tigers' communication and propaganda system, which has been very effective in uniting the Tamil people.

Tiger fighters communicate via walkie-talkie and radio systems. Before the peace agreement, there were as many as seven independent Tamil television stations, all except the Tigers' station operating on a very small scale.

"The extraordinary strength of the Tigers is their communication," Tiruchelvam said. "I think the Indian army understands this and is attempting to break their communication facilities."

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