Sri Lankan sea battle leaves 45 dead

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The Independent Online

At least 45 people were feared dead in a sea battle between the Sri Lankan navy and Tamil Tiger rebels yesterday. Within hours, the Sri Lankan air force attacked positions close to the Tiger capital in Kilinochchi. The violence comes amid fears that Sri Lanka is sliding back towards civil war.

Fifteen Sri Lankan sailors were reported missing after Tamil Tiger boats attacked a naval convoy off the northern coast and sank a patrol boat, according to the navy, which said it had sunk five Tiger vessels with 30 rebels on board.

The European monitoring mission in Sri Lanka described the violence as a "gross violation" of the 2002 ceasefire. "This is very serious," the head of the mission, Helen Olafsdottir, said. "It is getting worse."

More than 150 people have died in violence between government forces and the Tigers since the beginning of April.

The Sri Lankan navy said its convoy, a troop ship carrying more than 700 soldiers and its escort, was attacked by 15 Tiger vessels including suicide boats - small craft which are used to ram navy ships.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the most effective guerrilla forces in the world, have their own small naval wing, the Sea Tigers.