COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The military bombed Tamil Tiger rebel targets in eastern Sri Lanka on Wednesday, claiming they needed to clear the region before moving engineers in to repair a water tank.
The air attack, a violation of a shaky cease-fire according to Nordic cease-fire monitors, came as a Norwegian envoy considered how to resuscitate peace monitoring efforts in the South Asian country, officials said.
The attack was launched in the rebel-controlled Verugal region of Trincomalee district, 215 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of the capital, Colombo, air force spokesman Group Captain Ajantha Silva said.
The government earlier accused the Tamil rebels of refusing to allow the engineers in to repair the tank.
Sri Lankan air force jets struck three times, wounding two civilians and destroying two houses, Elilan,a top Tamil Tiger official in Trincomalee, was quoted as saying in the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site. Guerrillas suffered no casualties.
Meanwhile, a government statement, referring to the air raids, said the "limited operation" was conducted purely on "humanitarian grounds" to neutralize the disruptive forces that are preventing free flow of water to over 15,000 families.
"It is recognized that denial of water to civilians and hostile acts against infrastructure indispensable to the survival of civilian population constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity," said the statement from the government's Media Centre for National Security.
Also Wednesday, Tamil Tigers fired at an army patrol, killing one soldier and wounding another near the northern defense line in Vavuniya district, a Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Vavuniya, 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Colombo, is a government-held garrison town.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels.
Meanwhile, Norwegian envoy Jon Hannsen-Bauer was preparing for a visit to Sri Lanka next week.
He will try to persuade the guerrillas to drop demands for the withdrawal of European Union officials who are part of a five-nation Nordic truce monitoring mission overseeing a shaky cease-fire between the rebels and the government, said Erik Ivo Nurnberg, spokesman for the Norwegian Embassy.
In May, the EU listed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a terrorist group. As a result, the rebels say peace monitors from Finland, Sweden and Denmark — all EU members — can no longer be neutral.
Monitors from Norway and Iceland are also part of the mission but neither country belongs to the EU.
Sri Lanka's government opposes the rebels' demand for the withdrawal of the monitors from the EU, saying that under the 2002 cease-fire agreement neither side has the right to make unilateral decisions on the monitors.
Last week, Swedish diplomat Anders Oljelund met the rebels political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan and asked for the Tigers to reconsider their decision, but to no avail.
The rebels' demand comes amid surging violence between government troops and the rebels, threatening to destroy the cease-fire and return the island to full-scale civil war.
More than 750 people — half of them civilians — have been killed since the violence escalated in December.
Tamil Tiger rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for the country's minority Tamils, claiming they can only prosper away from the domination of majority Sinhalese.
More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the 2002 cease-fire.