Heavy rains in Sri Lanka have killed eight people and affected more than 340,000 others while restricting military gains over rebels in the country's worsening civil war, the military said on Sunday.
Unusually heavy torrential rains have caused widespread flooding and landslides in eastern agricultural and rice-growing areas, as well as in the north where the military has launched a fresh offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.
"Around seven percent of the harvest in major paddy producing areas has been destroyed," said Agriculture Department Director General C. Kudagamage on Sunday.
Disaster Relief Services Minister M.S.S Ameer Ali told local media that food rations would be distributed to tens of thousands of families in the worst affected "food bowl" province of Ampara and other areas.
Flooding and mass displacement of people are common in Sri Lanka, but northeast monsoon rains usually start in May. Flooding had also hit more than 41,000 people in the conflict-torn northeastern district of Mannar, where fighting is continuing between the Tigers and government forces after a truce in the country's 25-year civil war ended in January.
The military on Sunday said its forces had taken control of small but strategically vital areas around Parayakulam and Andillanthaven in Mannar, with 25 Tigers killed and another 25 injured, according to intercepted rebel radio reports.
But heavy rains have prevented the army using helicopter gunships against the rebels, who were digging new fortifications along the frontlines of their northern strongholds.
Ground forces pushing north on two fronts were also held up by knee-high floodwaters and marshlands, with only sporadic artillery and mortar fire, an unidentified army major told the local Sunday Times newspaper.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara said the offensive against the Tigers was continuing, but flooding had caused supply bottlenecks.
"Rain has created problems with some of the bunkers filled with water," Nanyakkara told Reuters. "The movement of vehicles and supplies are restricted to main roads, although much of the fighting relies on ground troops," he said.
A Tiger spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest fighting, although the pro-Tamil Puthinam.com Web site claimed 55 troops had been killed and 120 wounded in fighting on Saturday.
Both sides regularly make conflicting claims to boost frontline morale, and reports are impossible to verify since Nordic peace monitors keeping watch over a shaky ceasefire pact left the island this year after a resumption in fighting.
An estimated 70,000 people have died since the war began in 1983. (Reuters)
Flooding hits Sri Lanka