Colombo, June 18: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers said security forces and renegade ex-rebels fired on them in the island's east today, but no one was hurt, although fears of full-scale war continued to mount.
If government estimates are correct that 25-30 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels were killed in a naval clash on Saturday, more than 100 people have died since Thursday, the worst violence since a 2002 ceasefire halted two decades of war.
The Tigers accuse the government of backing fighters led by former eastern rebel commander Karuna Amman and using them to mount attacks on the mainstream rebels. The government denies it, but some diplomats are increasingly sceptical.
A defence spokesman said he had no news of any incident. Tiger eastern political leader Daya Mohan said Karuna fighters and police Special Task Force troopers fired four or five shells and small-arms across the front line.
''We retaliated with heavy fire and they vanished from the scene,'' he told Reuters. There were no casualties, he said.
A suspected Tiger mine attack on a civilian bus in north central Sri Lanka on Thursday killed 64 people from the island's Sinhalese majority, prompting the heaviest government air strikes since the truce on rebel areas in the north and east.
The rebels threatened retaliation if the attacks continued, but the government said they ceased on Friday night. On Saturday, the government said a Tiger naval and ground attack in the northwest left more than 40 dead or missing, half of them rebels.
Other fronts quiet
Violence between government and rebel forces, who have controlled a seventh of the island since the ceasefire, appeared to have largely ceased by Sunday morning. But the rebels have previously retaliated for Karuna attacks by attacking the army.
The rebels deny responsibility for most recent attacks, particularly the bus bomb -- by far the most serious attack since the ceasefire. But analysts and diplomats say that they remain the most likely suspects.
If violence continues, many fear attacks could come to the capital Colombo, sending investors fleeing from a billion economy also affected by the 2004 tsunami.
Both sides say they want to return to talks and each blames the other for frustrating the Norwegian-mediated peace process. Earlier this month, the Tigers walked out of talks in Oslo without even meeting the government delegation.
Diplomats say neither side has shown enough flexibility for peace. The Tigers are angry the government seems to have done nothing to disarm Karuna fighters despite a pledge at talks in Geneva in February to stop armed groups in their territory.
But some analysts and diplomats say they have simply grown frustrated with the peace process and believe they are more likely to win their goal of a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east on the battlefield.