18 combatants, 2 civilians killed in Sri Lanka 's latest fighting
Tue December 5, 2006 01:28 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan troops killed 16 Tamil Tigers in the country's volatile east, in fighting that also left two soldiers dead, the military said Tuesday. The separatist rebels killed two Muslims civilians in the north, police said.
The Media Center for National Security said the fighting began in the Vaharai region of Batticaloa district Monday and intermittent firing continued Tuesday.
Nineteen other soldiers were wounded, it said.
Batticaloa town is under government control, but the rebels have a presence in smaller towns, jungles and the countryside. The areas under government and rebel control are not properly demarcated, often leading to clashes.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualty details, but pro-rebel Web site, TamilNet, confirmed ``heavy fighting'' in the area.
Separately on Tuesday, police said Tamil Tigers shot dead two Muslims civilians in Vavuniya, the last government-held garrison town before rebel-held areas in north. Police officer G.M. Dharmaratne accused rebels of the killing and said they were investigating the motive.
Muslims are opposed to the rebels' demand for a homeland, because they also live in the areas which the rebels call the traditional homeland of the Tamils.
Also on Tuesday, a roadside bomb blast blamed on the rebels wounded two government-appointed security guards in the northern Anuradhapura district.
The Tigers have been fighting for over 20 years for an independent Tamil homeland in the northeast, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
The government says it is willing to give autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority, but the rebels insist on sweeping changes that the government says will infringe on the country's sovereignty.
The latest round of peace talks held in Switzerland in October failed to make any progress in resolving the issue and relations between the two sides have since deteriorated.
A sharp spike in violence this year has killed at least 3,500 fighters and civilians, leaving a 2002 cease-fire in effect only on paper.
The Tiger's top leader last week called the Oslo-brokered cease-fire ``defunct,'' but the rebels later clarified they would abide by the truce.
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Published: Tue Dec 5 03:56:17 EST 2006