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Senior Sri Lanka rebel says war back on

July 31, 2006

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s two-decade civil war is back on, a top Tamil Tiger told Reuters on Monday, as five soldiers and three rebels were killed in the first army advance on rebel-held territory since a 2002 ceasefire.

S. Elilan, head of the Tigers’ political wing in the restive eastern district of Trincomalee, said army troops had resumed a bid to advance toward land they control in the east and had fired artillery and mortars at their territory in the north.

"The ceasefire agreement has become null and void at the moment," Elilan said by telephone from Trincomalee, adding government troops were continuing an advance toward their forward defense line in the east in a water supply dispute.

"The war is on and we are ready," added Elilan. "The war has begun. It is the government which has started the war … Militarily, we have decided to fight back if the Sri Lankan army enters our area."

Elilan is not the Tigers’ main spokesman, but he is one of their top officials and their political head in Trincomalee. He has repeatedly warned of a return to war.

The military said five soldiers were killed and six injured during a ground battle in the east. The Tigers dismissed army reports that dozens of their fighters were killed, saying three had died in a multi-barrel rocket attack.

The Colombo stock market was 1.5 percent lower in afternoon trade in the wake of the Tiger statement and fresh violence, said Eranjan Kulatunga, an economic analyst at brokerage C.T. Smith.

The rebels, angry at President Mahinda Rajapakse’s outright rejection of their demand for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east, have pulled out of peace talks indefinitely and have been cranking up the rhetoric for months.   Continued…

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