Sri Lankan navy says it has destroyed a Tamil Tiger suicide boat

Sri Lankan navy boats patrolling the country's west coast came under attack Friday from suspected Tamil Tiger rebel boats, including a suspected suicide vessel which exploded when the military returned fire, a navy official said.

Navy Spokesman Commander D.K.P. Dassanayake said five navy boats were patrolling near Kalpitiya, a fishing area about 140 kilometers (86 miles) northwest of the capital, Colombo, when the attack occurred, the latest unrest that is threatening to push the country back into civil war.

"When our naval crafts were patrolling in the sea two suspicious boats approached. Another two joined them shortly and started firing at (the) navy boats," Dassanayake said.

The navy boats fired back and one of the attacking boats exploded and sank, Dassanayake said. The size of the blast indicated it may have been packed with explosives and was intended to be used in a suicide attack against the navy, he said.

No casualties were reported on the navy side.

There was no independent confirmation of the incident.

On Thursday, 10 people including seven alleged Tamil Tiger rebels, were killed in fighting that has increased recently to levels not seen since the Sri Lankan government and rebels signed a truce four years ago.

More than 150 people have been killed in spiraling violence since April, threatening the 2002 cease-fire brokered by Norway.

The latest violence comes as Japan, the island's top aid donor, prepared to send envoy Yasushi Akashi to discuss "the current situation of the peace process" with President Mahinda Rajapakse and other government officials, the Japanese Embassy said in a statement Friday.

The statement said the embassy was "seeking the possibility" for him to travel to rebel-held north to meet with rebel leadership.

Sri Lankan troops killed seven suspected rebels Thursday when they attacked a checkpoint in the northern town of Nelliady in the Jaffna Peninsula, which ethnic Tamil separatists consider part of their homeland, reports the AP.

I.L.