COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan navy boat sank after apparently hitting a floating mine off the island’s northern coast in an incident that left 10 sailors missing early Saturday, an official said.
A Web site linked to the Tamil Tiger rebels said, however, that the navy boat was hit by a rebel suicide attack.
The incident occurred as intensified fighting raged between Sri Lankan troops and ethnic Tamil rebels elsewhere on the island.
Navy spokesman D.K.P. Dassanayake said he believed that rebels planted the mine at sea off northern Mullaitivu district.
Six sailors were rescued but 10 others who were on the boat were missing, Dassanayake said.
The pro-rebel Web site TamilNet said, however, that the insurgents launched a suicide attack on the boat and that three of its fighters were killed.
The Tamil Tigers, who have been fighting for an independent state for the country’s minority ethnic Tamils since 1983, run a strong naval force. The rebels’ suicide attackers often ram boats packed with explosives into government naval ships.
Meanwhile, the military said ground troops captured a crucial area in northern Mannar district Saturday.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said holding the territory, though it is only about half a square mile in size, was important to reducing the rebels’ ability to fire artillery and resupply their front lines.
On Friday night two soldiers were killed and six others were wounded when a mine planted by the rebels hit their bus in Mannar town, Nanayakkara said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not be contacted for comment.
Both sides often exaggerate their enemies’ casualties and underreport their own.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka’s violence, which originated from ethnic Tamils being marginalized for decades by a series of governments run by majority ethnic Sinhalese.