The LTTE and the military were involved in a barrage of artillery exchanges in Jaffna yesterday forcing Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to suspend a scheduled visit to Palaly.
The LTTE however played down the incident saying it was just part of a `routine exchange of shelling.`
Commander Fonseka was scheduled to leave Katunayake for Palaly on board a military helicopter last morning when bad weather resulted in the flight being delayed. However some 45 minutes later, the approximate time it takes for the helicopter to reach Palaly, the LTTE launched a barrage of artillery shells towards Palaly and the Kankesanthurai harbour.
As the news of the attack reached Colombo the Army Commander suspended his flight to Palaly while a civilian aircraft which was on its way to Palaly was also forced to return to Colombo, military sources said.
There was speculation whether the army commander had been the target of the LTTE attack considering the timing of the incident.
LTTE military wing spokesman Rasiah Illentheriyan speaking to the Daily Mirror, played down the Jaffna incident saying it was `no big deal` and claimed it was a routine exchange of shelling between government troops and the LTTE.
However a military analyst said the LTTE shelling towards Palaly and KKS was significant as it was the first since last August. `There was the LTTE air raid on Palaly but there had not been any shelling so it does have some significance and cannot be played down,` the analyst told the Daily Mirror on condition of anonymity.
The military said there was no damage as a result of the LTTE attack in Jaffna as the artillery shells had fallen outside the Palaly military complex and airfield compound. The army retaliated by firing towards rebel controlled Pooneryn from where the LTTE is believed to have attacked Palaly.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said tension was high in Jaffna following the attack on Palaly, adding that mobile communication too was down. It also said the Army had directed heavy Multi-barrel rocket fire towards Pooneryn and the Air Force had conducted several aerial attacks on Tiger positions.
The SLMM added that the LTTE attack on Palaly was from the sea and not from land.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident at least three LTTE cadres and a soldier were killed while nine government troops were injured, when both parties exchanged mortar shells at Periyakulam in Vavuniya yesterday, the military said.
The LTTE launched the mortar attack on the military`s Periyakulam point killing a soldier and injuring nine, the military said adding that it retaliated by targeting the rebel mortar position killing at least 3 rebel cadres. The LTTE could not be contacted to confirm the casualty figures.