Rebel counter offensive leaves hundreds of Tamils dead

At least 250 members of the Tamil Tigers rebel group died while fighting the Sri Lankan army over the last few days, according to military sources.


AFP - The Sri Lankan military said Monday its troops had killed at least 250 Tamil Tigers during a weekend of fierce fighting around the rebels' shrinking fiefdom in the northeast of the island.

Army spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said the Tigers, boxed into an area of less than 50 square kilometres (19 square miles), had launched a series of counter-attacks against advancing troops in the district of Mullaittivu.

The military said it had killed 100 rebels in clashes on Friday and Saturday. On Monday it said it found another 80 bodies from Sunday's fighting.

But Nanayakkara said at least 150 Tigers had been killed, calling it the bloodiest day for the guerrillas in the latest military campaign aimed at completely defeating them.

"We have killed over 150 Tigers on Sunday and that is the biggest loss for them in a single battle," Nanayakkara said adding that troops used special forces, artillery guns and aircraft to pound rebel strong points.

"Security forces also lost a few soldiers... and a few (were) wounded," he said, without giving precise figures for government casualties. He added that a large haul of guns and ammunition were found.

The Sri Lankan government bars most journalists and aid workers from the north of the island, meaning the claims cannot be verified.

On Sunday, the defence ministry announced that the fighting had reached the "final phase" of operations against Tiger rebels, who have been leading a campaign for a separate Tamil state since 1972.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week reiterated his call for a swift halt to the conflict to avoid further civilian casualties after the International Red Cross said in January hundreds had been killed.

Sri Lanka officially estimates that 70,000 civilians remain trapped in the war zone along with around 500 Tiger fighters, but the United Nations says the number of non-combatants could be about 200,000.

The government also insists it is trying to aid civilians and accuses the Tigers of using them as "human shields".

Another 200 civilians crossed the front lines and sought shelter with government forces on Sunday, the defence ministry said, adding that a 17-year-old girl was wounded while trying to escape.

Some 36,000 people have already sought shelter with security forces since January.

The army spokesman said the Tigers had on Monday fired at a ship carrying emergency supplies for the trapped civilians in a government-declared no-fire zone in Mullaittivu district.

"The captain took the ship out to deep sea to prevent any damage," Nanayakkara said. "Hopefully, the ship will return and unload the remaining cargo, once it is safe."

However, the foreign ministry said reports from local UN officials in the area indicated that there was no attack against the ship and unloading would go ahead depending on weather in the area.

The government withdrew from a Norwegian-brokered truce at the start of last year, after accusing the Tigers of using a peace process only to re-arm.

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