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Archive for April 26th, 2008

On Wednesday morning the continuous siren sound of ambulances racing from the Ratmalana Airport towards the Colombo National Hospital and the Jayewardenepura Teaching Hospital created an uneasy feeling among the public that something was taking place in the Northern war front. The siren sounds continued till late at night as flights from Palali were comming in with large numbers of soldiers injured in a thick battle at the Muhamalai Forward Defence Line. Traffic police too were deployed along the Galle Road and the approach roads to the Jayewardenepura hospital to clear traffic and make way for the Ambulances. The hospital staff was mobilsed to carry out immediate surgery on the wounded soldiers who were being brought in.

The Sri Lanka Army (SLA), while gaining control over more areas in the Wanni region, faced a major setback at dawn on Wednesday, in its second attempt to capture the strategically important Muhamalai Forward Defence Line (FDL) of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With two bitter experiences in October and November last year, the SLA repeated the same mistake of not estimating the enemy capability and thereby sacrificed the lives of a large number of soldiers on Wednesday.

The battle commenced on Wednesday around 2 a.m. hours after Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka discussed the pre-planned military operation to captured further lands of the LTTE in the seven kilometers of the Muhamalai stretch.

Last week, the military had monitored a large number of LTTE cadres entering the Kilali area south of the A-9 (Jaffna-Kandy main road) armed with heavy weapons, indicating that the rebels were planning a major onslaught against the military.

On that Wednesday (16), soldiers from the 53 Division consisting of the Gemunu Regiment, Vijayaba Infantry Regiment and the 53-3 Brigade moved towards the enemy line south of the A-9 road. At the same time soldiers from the 55 division also moved towards the enemy territory. Brigadier Kamal Gunaratne was the General Officer Commanding the 55 Division. The 53 Division was commanded by its General Officer Commanding, Brigadier Samantha Sooriyabandara. Backed by heavy artillery and mortars the advancing troops infiltrated into the enemy’s first line amidst heavy resistance from the LTTE cadres. Soon, the troops were surprised by a heavy volume of artillery and mortar attacks launched by the Tigers from the LTTE controlled areas in Pallai, south of Muhamalai, causing heavy damage to the advancing troops.

In the north of the A-9 Road, the 55 Division was able to completely capture the enemy’s first FDL after a fierce battle before dawn and succeeded in destroying the bunker lines. They were also able to initially collect at least 17 rebel bodies from the line.

To further advance the 55 Division they had to wait until the 53 Division troops linked with them according to the plan. But there was no indication until dawn that the 53 Division would link with the 55 Division, since the Tigers continued to fire on the advancing troops with heavy artillery shells direct on the target.

Though the soldiers from 1 GR and 5 VIR reached the enemy’s first FDL after a fierce battle, the LTTE tactically withdrew from their own line in order to facilitate artillery attacks on the soldiers.

Both brigades however, advanced a further 75 metres from the LTTE first FDL though it was not on the initial plan, thus suffering more damage. The 1GR and 5 VIR were trapped in the enemy FDL and were unable to link with other brigades of the 53 and 55 Divisions. Using this opportunity, the Tigers circled the trapped soldiers and increased the fire barrage from their artillery weapons.

Despite these attacks, the trapped soldiers fought back bravely killing and injuring a large number of LTTE cadres. It was later revealed that the LTTE suffered heavy casualties due to the attacks from these trapped soldiers.

After sunrise the terrain was more difficult for the security forces. Making use of this advantage the LTTE intensified its attacks on the trapped soldiers. These attacks which started around 8 am continued for over two hours.

As the situation was getting worse, Army Commander Lt. General Fonseka who was in Colombo discussed with the Jaffna operations command room on how to rescue the trapped soldiers. Another batch of soldiers was sent to the area on this rescue operation. Knowing that a rescue team would arrive, the Tigers made preparations to counter it.

Meanwhile the 55 Division soldiers could not make any advance due to the heavy volume of artillery attacks. They moved back a few metres from the Tiger FDL leaving behind the captured seventeen Tiger bodies.

Meanwhile, the frontline LTTE leaders continued to ask for reinforcements from the Wanni leadership as there was a severe shortage of cadres to put pressure on the military.

A large number of cadres were been brought down from the north of Mannar and Welioya sector in buses and tractors. The Army’s Special Forces members, who had infiltrated the LTTE territory north of Mannar were able to attack several such buses killing a number of cadres on their way to the northern battle front.

In Muhamalai, as the rescue teams entered the scene, again volumes of artillery fell on them causing heavy casualties to the troops. As the situation got worse, the Army Headquarters sought aerial support to attack the Tigers. Several Air Force MIG and Kfir jets were air borne from the Katunayake military base and reached the Kilinochchi skies in minutes.

Those jets were tasked to destroy the LTTE’s artillery and mortar locations, as these weapons were instrumental in causing severe problems to the troops. The jets bombed two heavy gun positions located about 10 Km to 12 Km south of the LTTE FDL. After observing that one of the guns was still operating, the pilots returned to the base re-armed the aircraft and carried out a devastating attack significantly damaging the artillery gun.

Another sortie carried out by the jets targeted a rendezvous point (RV) of the terrorists located behind their second line of defence.

After a series of aerial raids, the troops were able to withdraw from the deep enemy land, but succeeded in holding the first FDL line of the Tigers.

By noon, the fighting came to an end as both parties had suffered heavy casualties. The injured soldiers were immediately evacuated to the Palali military hospital initially, later they were airlifted to hospitals in Colombo – the National Hospital, Jayewardenepura Hospital etc.

Several hospitals urged the public to donate blood for the injured soldiers, while several funeral parlours in Colombo were filled with bodies.

On the same day morning, military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied having had any battle in the northern front. However, a few hours later, he announced that only fifteen soldiers were killed and 74 injured, while 52 LTTE cadres were killed. It was also stated that the clash erupted when the Tigers attempted to attack the military FDL, and said that the military had repulsed the attempt and that a 400 to 500 metre stretch in the Muhamalai and Kilaly had been captured by the troops.

However, at that time, most of the media personnel knew the exact death and casualty figures. Late at night on the same day, the military spokesman and the media centre for National Security put the death toll of the military to 38 with nearly a 100 injured. They also claimed that over 100 rebels had been killed in the clash. In the meantime, the pro-LTTE Tamilnet reported that there were heavy clashes in the north as the military tried to attack the LTTE FDL.

The next day, at a press conference, the military spokesman said that 43 soldiers had been killed, 33 reportedly gone missing and some 160 injured during the Muhamalai battle.

Defence Spokesman minister Keheliya Rambukkwella claimed that the incident could not be considered a debacle.

On the same day, LTTE Spokesman Rasaiyah Marshall emailed media institutions about the recovery after the battle. He said that they have recovered 30 bodies of the soldiers and claimed over 100 soldiers died in the battle. However he put their death toll as sixteen.

According to Marshal the arms and ammunitions recovered are as follows. Type56-2 Assault Rifles: 41, Type56-1 Assault Rifles: 03, Type56 Light Machine Guns: 05, PKT (medium machine guns): 02, Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers: 05, 40MM Grenade Launchers: 03, Rocket Propelled Grenades (Anti-Armour): 07, Rocket Propelled Grenades (Anti-Personnel):21, Propellers for Rocket Propelled Grenades: 26, Helmets: 12, Ammunition, Inter-medium: 8500, Magazines for Rifles: 104, Chained Ammo for Machine Guns: 1500.

However, the Daily Mirror reliably learns that the casualty figures could be higher as well as the death toll of the military. Further when compared to the military casualties the LTTE casualties could be much higher. Latest intelligence reports had revealed that the LTTE announced 84 names killed in the battle so far while 71 of them were now at Kilinochchi. Sixteen of them had been identified as leading LTTE leaders.

In another development the Tigers had forcibly removed all the civilians who were receiving medical treatment at Kilinochchi, Mallavi and Mullaitivu hospitals in order to treat their injured cadres.

Some of the injured cadres were forcibly deployed back at the Muhamalai FDL due to the shortage of cadres.

The latest defeat at Muhamalai is the third comprehensive defeat in Jaffna in recent times. Two of the three operations were led by Brigadier Samantha Sooriyabandara, who is the current General Officer Command 53 Division. Brigadier Sooriyabandara is to be appointed Defence Attache to the Sri Lanka Embassy in the United States.

The vacant post would be taken over by 53 Division GOC Brigadier Gunaratne while Brigadier Prasanna Silva, who led the liberation of Mavil Aru and Vakarai is to be appointed GOC 55 Division soon.

The LTTE, employing a similar tactic it used back in 2006, withdrew to the secondary lines and brought a large volume of artillery fire on the troops consolidating the newly captured positions. It was this rain of artillery shells that caused most of the SLA casualties. In that debacle 175 soldiers were killed and over 400 were injured.

The latest setback can be considered as due to under-estimating the enemy and it still appears the military has not learnt from its past operations. After driving the LTTE out of the east last July following months of fighting, the government boasted it would replicate that success in the north.

Public euphoria at predictions of an imminent military victory boosted army recruitment. The latest battle will have a lot of consequences, not only on the economic front, but also on recruitment as well.

The LTTE, which suffered one military reversal after another, sought to make capital out of Wednesday’s incident. Several pro-LTTE websites ran footage of weapons claimed to be seized from the military to gain propaganda mileage. From this attack, the Tigers were attempting to boost the morale of its cadres in the wake of repeated defeats in the eastern province as well as the set backs in the Welioya and Mannar fronts. A highly placed defence official said that the main purpose of launching this attack was to prevent the LTTE from launching a possible attack on the peninsula. By taking the first step, the military has now been able to postpone the rebel plan.

It was also said by some that the attack was launched to gain political advantage by the government on the eve of the eastern election. But if that was the case the result was not what was expected.

As a professional and experienced force, the time has come for SLA’s military strength to be used strategically to win against the world’s most ruthless guerrilla organization, since it appears that the country’s decade’s long crisis has now reached a turning point.

(more…)

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The geography of the Muhamalai sector and the ingenious tactics of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been thwarting the Sri Lankan army’s bid to break out of the Jaffna peninsula and head south towards the rebel stronghold of Wanni.

Over the past seven years, the army has tried several times to break through the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil defence line and reach Elephant Pass, which is the gateway to the Wanni. But each time, it has had to retreat, suffering heavy losses in men and material.

“Geography has been against the attacker but has suited the well-entrenched defender,” an independent military expert told this website’s newspaper.

“The battle field is in a narrow isthmus in-between sections of the Jaffna lagoon. There is no room for manoeuvre here, which makes the place a death trap especially for large formations of men and armour. And the terrain is unsuitable for tanks,” the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

The LTTE not only mines the area extensively, sometimes using the powerful “monster” mine to blow up tanks, but also digs trenches and large pits, and camouflages them so that troops, armour and vehicles fall into them.

The Tigers typically avoid man-to-man fighting in this narrow area so as not to get trapped themselves, but use long distance weapons like mortars and artillery. According to former Army chief, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, the Tigers’ firing is not only heavy but deadly accurate, thanks to their intimate knowledge of the layout and excellent ground intelligence.

Stories of battles in the Muhamalai sector are of a pattern. On April 25, 2001, the 52, 53 and 55 Divisions sang their way through to occupy two square kilometers of LTTE-held territory in the Kilali-Eluthumaduval sector. But they had to retreat in disarray after a 72-hour-long battle, losing 300 to 500 men. The LTTE had allowed them to get into a cul-de-sac only to set upon them mercilessly from three sides.

In October 2006, there was another determined bid to break through Muhamalai, but a well-entrenched LTTE thwarted the move and destroyed or damaged six armoured vehicles, four T-55 tanks and two BMPs and killed 130 army men.

In the latest episode on Wednesday, the 53 and 55 Divisions, supported by armour, artillery and aircraft, could not attain their objective of capturing the LTTE’s second line of defence. And the losses were heavy.

CNN and Daily News said Tiger defenders, indulging in deception, allowed the army to get past the first line of defence and into the second line, unopposed, and then subjected them to consistent, concentrated and accurate mortar fire from more than 80 positions. The whole place had been mined, too. Unable to take the heavy casualties, the army pulled back to the first line of defence.

“There was an error of judgment. The army had miscalculated the strength of the LTTE,” an informed observer said.

The government believed that there were only 3,000 Tiger cadres in the beginning of 2008, that by April, 3,125 had been killed, and that the current crop of cadres was raw conscripts. It also said that the LTTE’s arms supplies had dried up thanks to the naval blockade.

(Newindpress)

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Army undaunted; heavy fighting in Muhamalai:

The Forward Defence Line from Kilaly to Nagar Kovil in the isthmus of the Jaffna peninsula has always been a hot topic when the troops and the LTTE clash since the ground that links the Jaffna peninsula has seen vital battles in the two and half decades long history of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

The battles that have erupted in this vital stretch of land has always become deadly for both parties since the crossing of this open terrain to advance the defences of either party has always ended inflicting high casualty rates.

Though the LTTE failed in all their endeavours to infiltrate the Security Forces Defences they had not given up the desire to dominate this land.

It has not moved away from this strategy despite losing their first and second defence lines in the Jaffna in their attempt to overrun the Jaffna peninsula in a 72-hour operation on August 11, 2006 and subsequent attack by the Security Forces on their defences.

Since then the Security Forces took the upper hand in the Jaffna FDLs continuously disturbing the LTTE in their attempt to strengthen their defences by constructing bunkers.

The FDLs in the Jaffna peninsula once again became a hot topic on Wednesday as fierce battle erupted in the FDLs in the wee hours. It was amidst intelligence reports that the Tigers were preparing for a major assault on the Jaffna FDLs the troops prepared themselves to face any situation in Jaffna.

Troops operating at the Muhamalai FDL got the first indication about the Tiger plans on Monday evening when one of their Armed Personnel carriers which was located in Muhamalai was hit by Tiger artillery fire. The artillery round had hit the hull of the APC damaging it fully. Three soldiers were also injured due to the Tiger fire. It is believed that Tigers had fired one of their RCL guns which can make burst effect.

The following morning Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka made a visit to Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters to observe the ground situation in the Jaffna FDLs and gave instructions to prepare for any emergency situation in Jaffna and to thwart Tiger plans to infiltrate Security Forces defences.

Just 14 hours after Army Commanders visit to Jaffna, the FDLs in Muhamalai and Kilali came under Tiger artillery and mortar fire. The troops of the 53 Division under the command of the Brigadier Samantha Suriyabandara and 55 Division under the command of Brigadier Kamal Gunaratne were given instructions to neutralise the Tiger threat ahead of the FDLs.

Their intention was to push the Tiger cadres from their current FDL and capture their second Line.

It was at 2 a.m. troops went ahead from Kilali, Muhamalai and Kadolana area to reach the Tiger FDL to neutralise the Tiger threat.

The 55 Division under the command of Brigadier Kamal Gunaratne advanced from the North of A-9 road and 53 Division under the Command of Brigadier Samantha Suriyabandara advanced from south of A-9 road. Their task was to reach the Tiger FDL simultaneously and launch a major assault on the Tiger FDL.

They had to brave the mine fields, booby traps and artillery and rains of artillery and mortar fire directed at them. However, it is learnt that the troops of the 53 Division, the prime offensive Division equipped elite Army Commandos have been entrusted with the task of advancing to the Tiger defence line from Kilaly to A-9 road which is in the South of A-9 road.

The task of the 55 Division was to reach the Tiger FDL from Muhamalai to Kadolana. Both Divisions had to face severe resistance from the LTTE. They had come across a large number of booby traps set by the Tigers to thwart any Security Forces advance.

Many of the troops had sustained injuries in their initial bid due to the large number of booby traps thus delaying the process of advancing towards the Tiger first line which was the original second FDL of the LTTE after the fall of the first Tiger FDL in October last year.

According to ground troops by 6 a.m. there had been only one casualty. By 8 a.m. there had been 15 deaths and 15 casualties.

However, the troops of the 55 Division have reached the first line of the LTTE though there was a delay on the part of the 53 Division to reach the target. As the troops reached the first line of the LTTE, the LTTE directed barrages of artillery and mortar towards the advancing troops.

Amidst heavy artillery and mortar fire of the LTTE troops were able to capture the first defence line of the LTTE pushing them to their second line.

The Security Forces too took MBRL shoots towards Tiger gun positions located in the Soranpattu in the south of Palai thus aiming at the supply routes of the LTTE to prevent Tiger reinforcements arriving there.

The fighter jets of the SLAF and MI 24 gunship helicopters gave close air cover for the ground troops by targeting the Tiger gun positions in Soranpattu. With the air support and artillery support troops were able to capture the first Defence line and launch a major assault on their second line too.

The assault on the Tiger FDLs was a massive one since it was eight kilometres from Kilali to Kadolana area in the isthmus of the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE was able to take the targets accurately since they have vacated their third line after registering artillery and mortar onto the Tiger FDL which was dominated by the troops.

According to ground troops they have advanced more than 600 metres ahead of the original defences in Muhamalai by noon on Wednesday amidst fierce resistance from the LTTE and capturing the third defence line of the LTTE.

Troops have reached the Tiger FDL by 11 am and it was between 12 noon to 1 pm the fierce battle erupted with rains of artillery and mortar fell onto the Tiger FDL dominated by the troops. Though the casualties were relatively low till 11 a.m. the number of casualties suddenly increased between 12 noon to 1 p.m. as the LTTE was firing directly onto Tiger trenches which were dominated by the troops.

Since the number of casualties increased on the part of the Security Forces at 12.30 pm the field commanders decided to withdraw the troops from the second line of the Tiger FDL into the first line.

The Field Commanders were of the view that it was a futile attempt to hold that ground with a large number of casualties on the part of the Security Forces.

It was at this stage some soldiers went missing when the troops were withdrawing from the Tiger second defence line to the first line. Troops could not recover the bodies of the soldiers due to heavy mortar and artillery fire.

It has been witnessed that the LTTE had made use of maximum firepower during this confrontation even using the locally made mortars towards the troops.

According to Security sources they had used 82 artillery and mortar locations to launch this attack on the Security Forces who had advanced into the Tiger territory capturing an eight Km long stretch after advancing 500 metres into the Tiger territory.

Now the LTTE has lost their first defence line to the Security Forces. Originally it was the second line of the LTTE since troops were able to capture their first original line in October last year after their attempt to capture Jaffna peninsula in August 2006. It was a clear indication that they too were badly affected by the Security Forces MBRL, artillery and mortar fire directed at them.

Initially it had been reported that 50 per cent of the Tiger cadres operating in the Tiger FDLs perished in the fierce battle.

Later it had been confirmed that the 149 Tiger cadres have been killed in the battle and they have declared names of 81 Tiger cadres killed by yesterday noon.

However, the pro-LTTE Tamilnet website highlighted the casualty figure of the Security Forces to cover up their loses.

The Security Forces yesterday declared that 43 soldiers were killed and 33 others were Missing in Action during this battle. According to the Army 169 soldiers have sustained injuries. Out of this 126 have been admitted to hospitals.

The LTTE declared that they had taken 30 bodies of the soldiers killed during the battle to Kilinochchi and declared names of some of the soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice. Therefore, the number of deaths will shoot up to 73.

As usual there had been speculations about the number of deaths and casualty figures and attempts are being made to highlight this operation as major set back to the Security Forces.

Of course, the number of deaths and casualties were relatively high when compared to other military operations.

It was a coincidence that the troops had to counter this LTTE attempt to infiltrate the Jaffna FDLs, exactly eight years after the Elephant Pass debacle in which the Security Forces had to withdraw from Elephant Pass to Pallai losing more than 1,000 troops in 2000.

There may be many attempts to compare this counter attack on the LTTE with the Elephant Pass debacle.

But it will be a ridiculous attempt since our troops have been able to capture a vital territory from the LTTE clutches during this operation without losing an inch of land to the LTTE.

Of course we had lost young blood the nation who are ready to make their supreme sacrifice on behalf of a worthy cause. Even in the case of the Sri Lanka Army there had been lapses during this counter offensive.

But Security Forces will have to do continue its bid to liberate Wanni from the clutches of the LTTE.

So this should be considered as a giant leap forward towards achieving the task of liberating the entire country from the LTTE especially the North.

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The Sri Lankan government’s diplomatic offensive has crippled the LTTE logistics network, but despite this the core leadership of the LTTE is fanatic and ruthless and as a result the ongoing conflict will probably turn ugly, an international military publication said yesterday.Strategy Page said the LTTE was holding back a reserve combat unit to be used in a last stand, or an offensive meant to demoralize the army and halt the dismantling of LTTE defences in the north.

In the last four months the army said it had killed almost 3,100 LTTE fighters out of an estimated 5,000 LTTE fighters believed to be fighting but since then several thousands more had been recruited, The Strategy Page said.

It said army operations had become bolder and more frequent and included surprise pre-dawn attacks and a continuation of the lopsided casualty count – for example ten LTTE cadres dead for each soldier killed — announced so far this year.

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Figures provided by Sri Lankan military sources are at odds with official casualty figures following fighting between the military and Tamil fighters.
These sources said that at least 165 soldiers were killed and 20 were missing during a week of fighting – figures higher than those provided by the defence ministry.
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The discrepancies appeared as media groups on Friday complained of unofficial censorship.
The Free Media Movement (FMM) said on its website that authorities had prevented photographers from entering hospitals where there were military casualties.
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“Hitherto, photographers have had no problems in entering hospitals to report on the casualties of war,” the FMM said.

“It is highly likely that these measures have been taken after heavy losses (numbering in the hundreds) faced by the Sri Lankan army earlier this week after fighting intensified in the north.”

Casualties confusion
In a sign of the ongoing confusion over casualty figures, the government-controlled Daily News reported that 200 fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had been killed in the battle.
But official defence ministry figures cited only 43 soldiers dead and 38 missing from Wednesday’s fighting in the northern peninsula of Jaffna.
“Some of the senior officers have been told that the army lost 185, including 20 who are still listed as missing,” AFP reported a military source as saying.
“We are trying to establish the fate of the missing.”
On Thursday, the government reported killing more than 100 Tamil fighters and wounding 100 more in the pre-dawn offensive along the Muhamalai front lines on the peninsula.
But the Tigers said only 25 of its fighters were killed.
Verification problem
Official defence ministry casualty reports and LTTE figures can seldom be verified because the government prevents journalists from visiting war zones and territory held by the Tamil Tigers.
Both sides are also thought to underplay their own losses while overstating those of their opponents.
The ministry claims 3,105 Tamil Tigers have been killed already this year, more than the total number of fighters as estimated by intelligence sources – which say the LTTE has only 3,000 fighters in total.
The increased casualty figures make Wednesday’s confrontation by far the biggest battle since Colombo withdrew from a Norwegian-arranged truce in January.
Church clashes
Despite the heavy losses in Jaffna, Sri Lankan forces on Friday took control of a Roman Catholic church that religious groups had feared was in danger of being damaged by by civil war.
But while the government seized the church in Madhu – which had been abandoned by the Tamil Tigers – a statue of the Virgin Mary, which is a magnet for mass pilgrimages, remained in LTTE-controlled territory.
The church, in the coastal Mannar district, has in the past provided a sanctuary for thousands of civilians sheltering from the crossfire, the ministry said.
It accused the LTTE of turning the shrine into “a terror base by positioning its heavy guns around the church and using it as a barrack” since they took control of the area in 1999.
(Aljazeera)

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A powerful claymore mine weighing around 10 kilogrammes found at Wolfendhal Street in Colombo last evening was defused by the Police Special Task Force Bomb Disposal Unit.

A man from the area had detected the claymore mine found hidden in a parcel near the Old Dutch Church and informed police.

Wolfendhal police said they believed the mine might have been hidden by an LTTE supporter for a future attack.

Police also found a stock of powerful C4 explosives and a claymore mine from a domestic compound at Kadireshan Street in Colombo.

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