Sri Lanka's navy has arrested four Tamil Tiger rebels who were allegedly gathering intelligence on a strategic port, police and defense officials said.
The arrests came as a three-year-old truce between the government and rebels is becoming increasingly shaky due to recent scattered incidents of violence that have left scores of people dead.
The four Tamil Tigers were arrested Saturday after police spotted their boat in Trincomalee harbor in the country's northeast and tipped off the navy, Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanage said Monday.
He said security forces had delayed releasing the information because they wanted to be sure of the rebels' involvement.
"We now have confirmation that the four are members of the LTTE," Witharanage said, referring to the rebel group's official name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Trincomalee is a maritime lifeline for the island nation of 19 million people. The port is also used by a subsidiary of India's state-owned Indian Oil Corp. to store petroleum reserves.
While Trincomalee and its port are government-controlled, the guerrillas control the surrounding area. They fought for two decades to turn the area into a separate nation for minority ethnic Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
The conflict killed more than 65,000 people before a Norway-brokered cease-fire was signed in 2002. Subsequent peace talks have been stalled since 2003 due to disagreements over postwar power-sharing.
Navy personnel seized a digital camera from the four rebels, officials said.
"We are investigating their motives," said Assistant Superintendent of Police Mahinda Serasinghe.
Also on Monday, suspected rebels fatally shot a Tamil schoolteacher as he rode his motorcycle to work in the northern town of Jaffna, Witharanage said.
Residents said the victim, K. Paramesheran, was a member of the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party, which has joined Sri Lanka's political mainstream and now opposes the Tigers.
The family of the victim denied he was involved with the group.
Later Monday, suspected rebels fatally shot a Jaffna jewelry shop owner, Witharanage said. He said the motive for the killing was unclear, AP reported.