Sri Lankan forces, Tamil rebels exchange artillery, mortar fire on Jaffna peninsula
Fri October 13, 2006 01:08 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Army forces and Tamil Tigers exchanged artillery and mortar fire in northern Sri Lanka on Friday, the military said, days after hundreds of combatants were killed in some of the bloodiest battles since a 2002 cease-fire accord.
Tamil rebels fired artillery and mortars across the defense line in Muhamalai on Jaffna peninsula overnight, wounding four soldiers, said an officer at the Media Centre for National Security, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
He said there was continuing sporadic artillery fire from both sides along the defense line.
In northern Vavuniya, the northernmost government-held garrison town before rebel-held territory, one soldier was killed and three wounded when rebels attacked an army patrol, said an officer attached to the Media Center for National Security, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
He said the soldiers repulsed the attack, but rebel casualties were not known immediately.
The latest fighting comes a day after the military said 129 soldiers died in a fierce battle Wednesday with the rebels, in which the army said 200 insurgents were killed.
On Thursday, the rebels handed over the bodies of 74 soldiers to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which transported them to the government-controlled district of Vavuniya where they were received by the army.
Rebel military spokesman Irasiah Ilanthirayan said Thursday that as many as 200 government soldiers had died, along with 22 rebels. He also said the rebels had captured one soldier. The ICRC said they had visited the wounded soldier, who is in a hospital.
The combined death toll was one of the highest since the government and rebels signed the 2002 cease-fire agreement.
The military denied it started Wednesday's major offensive, saying it had fired heavy artillery and rockets after sporadic attacks by rebels since Tuesday along a de facto border separating government and rebel-held areas near Muhamalai on Jaffna peninsula.
The government routinely maintains that its military operations are defensive and do not violate the 2002 cease-fire, but the Tigers accused the army of initiating the offensive.
The battle came after Tiger political chief Suppiah Thamilselvan agreed Tuesday to attend peace talks with the government, which Norwegian peace brokers said would take place in Switzerland on Oct. 28-29.
The government said Thursday it remains committed to the scheduled talks despite the continued fighting.
The United States said it was ``deeply concerned,'' urging an end to the violence and warning it could throw doubt on the talks.
The military controls almost all of Jaffna Peninsula, but small pockets are held by the rebels, who claim the peninsula as the cultural heart of the country's ethnic Tamil minority.
The rebels made a major push to retake the peninsula on Aug. 12.
About 2,000 people have died in fighting this year, according to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which was set up to oversee the cease-fire.
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. About 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 cease-fire.
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Published: Fri Oct 13 09:29:55 EDT 2006