Envoys hurt in Sri Lanka attack

Helicopter used by US, Italian and Japanese ambassadors comes under mortar fire.

    Robert Blake, the US ambassador, was visiting Batticaloa with his Italian and Japanese counterparts [AFP] 

    Tiger regret


    The Tamil Tigers admitted firing the mortars, but blamed the Sri Lankan military.


    "I express our regret at this unfortunate incident," Rasiah Ilanthirayan, the spokesman for the separatist Tamil Tigers said from the their headquarters in Kilinochchi.


    He said the Sri Lankan army has used the same landing area to launch attacks on Tamil targets, and Tamil Tiger fighters attacked the helicopters fearing further military assaults.


    "Even this morning they had used the place to launch artillery fire at us," he said. "Our people were not informed of the diplomatic movement. This is a criminal negligence on the part of the Sri Lankan military."


    A small piece of shrapnel was removed from Mariani's head and he was later discharged, said Dr K Muruganandan of Batticaloa's government hospital.


    The two ambassadors, accompanied by their staff and Sri Lankan officials, had travelled on Tuesday morning to Batticaloa aboard the helicopters to attend a meeting about the development of the area, a hotbed of separatist violence.


    The US embassy in a statement said ambassador Blake was "all right", without providing further details.


    Kiyoshi Araki, the Japanese ambassador, who was also with the group, was unhurt, according to a Japanese foreign ministry statement from Tokyo.


    Tamil Tiger fighters have been battling government troops in the island-country since the early 1980s seeking a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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