In the second such incident in recent weeks, Subramanium Kamalaraj, the chief priest of the 'Sri Sivamuttu Kali Amman Kovil', was shot dead today morning at Mamangama by suspected LTTE gunmen, the ministry said.
The body of the 32-year-old priest was found riddled with T-56 gunshots, Batticaloa Police sources said. Security forces are conducting search operations in the area.
According to defence sources, undercover LTTE elements in the area are making desperate attempts to create disturbances and uncertainty, also premeditating a slow down of the "counter terrorists" operations at Wanni, the ministry said.
It may be recalled that in September, the head priest of the famous Koneswaram Hindu temple in Eastern Trincomalee was shot dead. The priest was shot near the temple by two suspected LTTE motorbike-borne gunmen, security officials had said.
The 43-year-old priest, Sivakudaracha Kurukkal Sivakuharaja Kurukkal, was shot while he was riding a motorbike. According to sources, the victim was a highly respected personality among the Hindu Tamils as well as the other communities living in the area.
"Also, the priest was maintaining cordial relationships with the law enforcement authorities in the district and had performed a great service in building peace and harmony among the different communities," the Media Centre for National Security quoted the sources as saying.
Meanwhile, police personnel manning a security post at Kallady in the Kathankudi Police division in Batticaloa have arrested a suspected cadre of the LTTE who was fleeing the area after lobbing a hand grenade at the police post.
No police personnel were injured in the grenade attack, sources said.
The suspect was wounded in retaliatory attack by the police and was admitted to the Kathankudy hospital for treatment, the defence ministry said.
Reports of fighting have increased in recent weeks amid government's declaration to crush the group by the end of the year. Fighting, which has escalated in the past two years, further flared after the government in January pulled out of the 2002 cease-fire pact with the rebels.
The fierce clashes between the military and the rebels came as both sides waited for LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran to make his annual address to the Tamil people today, a speech described as a 'state of the nation' address.
Analysts and supporters will be watching to see how the LTTE boss explains the huge setback by the Tamil Tigers in the government offensive in recent months.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state for the minority ethnic Tamils, alleging marginalization of the community for decades by governments dominated by the Sinhalese. Over 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war in the Island nation.