Sri Lanka: Fighting kills 70 combatants
By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI, Associated Press WriterSat Jul 26, 5:19 AM ET
Heavy fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels along the front lines of their civil war killed 62 rebels and eight soldiers, the military said Saturday.
The fighting occurred throughout Friday in the Vavuniya, Jaffna, Welioya and Mullaitivu districts bordering the rebels’ de facto state in the north, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman.
In the worst clashes, soldiers repulsed a pre-dawn rebel attack in the Mullaitivu district that occurred hours after government forces captured rebel-held territory near a key supply route, Nanayakkara said.
Troops killed 33 rebels in the battle and recovered all of the bodies, he said.
Separate battles in Vavuniya killed 16 guerrillas and eight soldiers, while 12 rebels died in Welioya and another rebel was killed in Jaffna, Nanayakkara said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not immediately available for comment. Both sides routinely exaggerate their enemy’s death toll while underreporting their own.
It was not possible to independently verify the military reports because the government has barred most journalists from the northern jungles where much of the fighting takes place.
Fighting has escalated in recent months after government officials vowed to crush the rebels and seize their de facto state by the end of the year. Although the military gains against the Tamil Tigers have been relatively modest, troops in recent weeks have seized a string of key towns and rebel bases, consistently chipping away at the guerrillas’ power base.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent state in the nation’s north and east since 1983, following decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.