COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, JUNE 14 -- Government troops backed by helicopter gunships, artillery and thousands of reinforcements fought fierce battles with Tamil rebels today in the north and east, witnesses and officials said.
The government's latest bid to end the fighting that broke out in 1983 between the country's Tamil minority and the majority Sinhalese collapsed when rebel leaders said they were unwilling to come to the strife-torn eastern town of Batticaloa for talks, said Deputy Defense Minister Ranjan Wijeratne.
The fighting is the worst violence since negotiations between the government and the dominant Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, began in May 1989.
One report said Tiger rebels killed 125 to 150 policemen who were among 600 officers captured when the Tigers overran 11 police stations in the east Monday.
A young policeman who was shot by the rebels and left for dead among the bodies of his colleagues said today he crawled into the jungle and hid while more policemen were killed. Piyeratna Ranaweera said he was one of 115 policemen who were captured Monday at Kalmunai police station, 135 miles east of Colombo.
Ranaweera said the Tigers blindfolded all 115 policemen, took their watches and wallets, tied their hands and gave them water. They were then taken in three buses from Kalmunai to a rebel camp 20 miles to the south.
Defense Secretary Gen. Cyril Ranatunge told reporters that the government was launching air attacks against the rebels in Batticaloa.
The bloodshed has raised the specter of a return to the all-out war between Tigers and government forces that prevailed before India sent thousands of peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka in July 1987.
India withdrew its forces in March at Sri Lanka's request after an unsuccessful 32-month effort to disarm the Tigers. The Tigers took virtual control of the northeastern districts after the Indians left.
Defense Minister Wijeratne said that while President Ranasinghe Premadasa hoped to resolve the problem through discussions, military steps were being taken to protect lives and government property.