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Fatal clashes between army and Tamil Tigers

Latest update : 2008-04-23

Tamil separatists pushed back an army offensive in the island's north, claiming the lives of at least 90 people, including 38 soldiers, according to the Defence ministry. The rebels claim the death toll is as high as 116, including 100 soldiers.

COLOMBO - Heavy fighting in Sri Lanka's far north killed 52 Tamil Tiger rebels and 38 soldiers, while the air force bombed rebel positions, the military said on Wednesday.

 

Fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has intensified since the government formally pulled out of a 6-year-old ceasefire pact in January, though a renewed civil war has been raging since 2006.

 

"LTTE terrorists came and attacked our forward line this morning, we have retaliated and captured about 400 to 500 metres of LTTE area in Muhamalai," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara of the fighting in the northern Jaffna Peninsula.

 

Nanayakkara said later that the military death toll had risen to 38 soldiers killed from 15.

 

The Air force said fighter jets bombed rebel artillery positions and a rebel regrouping position and MI-24 helicopter gunships attacked the rebels in support of the ground troops.

 

Tamil Tiger rebels said that heavy fighting erupted in the Jaffna peninsula when the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) launched a fresh offensive on Wednesday morning.

 

"LTTE defensive formations were confronting the SLA units that mounted offensive attacks simultaneously at several locations around 3:30 a.m.," said pro-rebel website http://www.tamilnet.com, quoting the rebels' Northern Forces Operations Command.

 

The Tigers had no comment on casualties and independent verification is not possible because access is denied.

 

The Tigers, fighting for an independent state in the north and east, earlier said in an emailed statement that they had repulsed another government assault in Jaffna on Tuesday.

 

"At Muhamalai front in Jaffna, heavy clashes erupted when the SLA battle units made an attempt to overrun LTTE fortifications," said Tamil Tiger rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan.

 

"The SLA teams were beaten back in a 30-minute repulse by the valiant LTTE defenders."

 

Analysts say both the government and rebels often inflate enemy death tolls and play down their own losses. The reports are rarely possible to verify independently.

 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has pledged to destroy the Tigers militarily.

 

After driving the rebels from the east, the armed forces are focusing on Tiger-held areas in north, intensifying fighting in the civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people since 1983. Thousands have been killed in recent months.

 

The rebels have hit back with bombings in Colombo and elsewhere in the relatively peaceful south of the island when they have come under military pressure in the past.

 

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the war, given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island's east.

 

But they see no clear final winner and say the rebels still retain the capability to strike back, despite high security and military gains.

 

Date created : 2008-04-23

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