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Archive for March 29th, 2008

Soldiers nearly shot down one flying towards army camp

Sri Lankans, set to take a hot-air balloon ride over Sigiriya during the second phase of a festival backed by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, have been asked to step down by the organisers but foreign tourists have been allowed the ride.

The organisers have been told by the Tourism Ministry to refund the Rs.10,000 per head ticket to the locals after a near-miss incident over Yala earlier in the week when army officers nearly shot down one of the balloons because they had not been informed of the event.

Capt. Anil Jayasinghe, one of the organisers of the festival, confirmed that money paid by the locals had been refunded keeping with a security requirement, but declined to elaborate.

The balloon festival was organized by the Ceylon Airship & Balloon Club along with the Ministry of Tourism and is being held from March 21 to April 4 with the first phase concluding on Friday in Tissamaharamaya. Earlier, a group of journalists who went on a balloon ride during the first phase of the balloon festival came very near to being shot down when their balloon strayed towards an army camp near the Yala National Park.

Organizers said they had obtained permission from the authorities for the event but troops on the ground said they had not been informed about it and that had nearly caused a major tragedy. Tourist Board Marketing Director Dilip Mudadeniya said permission had been obtained from Air Force and Civil Aviation authorities but the direction of the wind had carried the balloon towards the army camp.

He said 12 people, including the British operator, had been in the balloon, which had taken off from the Deberawewa Maha Vidyalaya in Tissamaharama around 7 a.m. on Wednesday and landed a kilometre away from the Palatupana army camp around 8.45 a.m.

The journalists and others stayed in the balloon for sometime until park rangers and a cattle herder saw them and escorted them to the army camp. There, they learnt the horrific truth that the military personnel on the grounds had seen the balloon and obtained permission to shoot it down if it proceeded further.

When they were stuck in the Yala jungles, frantic efforts were made to establish contact with the operations centre at the takeoff site but most of the mobile phones did not work and with radio contact also lost, there was panic.

The group also sighted three elephants in the vicinity but due to the sound of the air pressure as the balloon descended, they had fled in fright. The story had a happy ending as soldiers had held fire long enough for the balloon to land and for the military personnel to identify those on board.

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The Sri Lanka Army captured the southern part of Adampan Town today when it overran Tiger fortifications at Ilantheevan. Despite soggy ground conditions, heavy rains and floods troops are continuing their operations with equal intensity.

LTTE fortifications have largely encompassed civilian houses. These houses are fortified with rare timber like large trunks of teak and often have underground bunkers. Civilians are forced to remain inside by the LTTE while the Army is advancing.

In addition to above the ground conspicuous structures like civilian houses are other camouflaged trenches and pillboxes. Many of these stagnate with water, but young Tiger cadres are forced to man them and often die inside them as well.

Tigers have also painstakingly booby trapped foot bridges, culverts etc using mortar and artillery shells. The Army defuses these whenever possible and whenever it is not possible, they blast through them using recoilless guns (RCLs) like the one in the picture below.

The Sri Lanka Air Force is continuing to monitor movements and developments around Udayarkattukulam in Iranamadu following yesterday’s attack on an LTTE explosives dump.

The SLAF believes more LTTE assets maybe hidden close to the location and will attempt to bomb any units attempting to remove such assets from the area. The SLAF and Military Intelligence believes it will take at least one more day of observations and ground intelligence to confirm the damage to the target acquired.

(Defencewire)

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Sri Lankan security forces killed at least 27 Tamil Tiger rebels during fighting across the island’s embattled northern district, the defence ministry said Saturday.

Ground troops advanced further into Mannar on Saturday killing 10 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and smashing two rebel bunkers, the statement said.

The military said they destroyed rebel bunkers and killed 17 guerrillas in artillery exchanges on Friday and placed its own losses at seven soldiers injured.

“Heavy fighting broke out since Thursday as the torrential rains eased away improving ground conditions for army fighting units to mobilise deeper into LTTE defences,” the statement said.

Sri Lanka airforce fighter jets on Friday made low diving sorties destroying a suspected rebel ammunition dump in guerilla-held northern territory, the ministry said.

There was no immediate comment from the LTTE, but a pro-rebel website said a a soldier died on Friday after accidentally touching a live electric fence along the northern defence line. The military did not comment.

Security forces have killed at least 2,418 rebels since the beginning of January, while only 147 government soldiers have died in action, according to defence ministry figures.

The government casualty numbers and those given by the Tigers cannot be independently confirmed as Colombo bars journalists and rights groups from frontline areas.

Tens of thousands have died since the LTTE launched a separatist campaign in 1972 to carve out an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the island’s north and east, from the majority Sinhalese community.

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