Sri Lankan military: Soldiers seize rebel-held territory in north as fighting kills 47
Wed January 9, 2008 10:07 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan soldiers pushed across the front lines and captured a piece of rebel-held territory as heavy artillery and mortar battles across the embattled north killed 47 people, the military said Wednesday. Police commandoes fatally shot a senior rebel leader Wednesday identified as Shankar, who was hiding among civilians in the east, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. Shankar was the insurgents' top leader in eastern Sri Lanka, a region the government said it had liberated from Tamil Tiger control in July.
The rebels could not be reached for comment. Each side routinely exaggerates the other's casualties and plays down its own.
The killing came hours after army troops backed by artillery and mortar fire seized about one square kilometer (0.4 square mile) of territory near the village of Parappaankandal in the northern Mannar district, southwest of rebels' northern headquarters, Nanayakkara said.
The military has driven deep into rebel territory in recent months and pushed the front lines back from three to 20 kilometers (two to 12 miles) in different areas, he said.
The battle Tuesday killed 19 guerrillas and one soldier, while five insurgents died in a separate clash in the same district, he said.
In the nearby Vavuniya district, soldiers killed 13 guerrillas Tuesday, and three more rebels were killed on Jaffna peninsula, Nanayakkara said. Ten soldiers were wounded.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, soldiers fought two separate gunbattles in Jaffna, killing five insurgents, Nanayakkara said. Clashes wounded five soldiers.
Senior military officials have vowed to dismantle the rebels' de facto state in parts of the north this year and then hunt down the remaining rebels fighting in the jungle.
The infantry clashes came hours after a roadside bomb blamed on the rebels killed a government minister near the capital.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa condemned the assassination Tuesday as proof of the rebel group's ``continued commitment to terror and violence,'' and hinted the government would strike back.
``This sad event is a further reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to rid our country of terrorism and the use of violence to achieve political ends,'' he said in a statement.
Both sides in the fight routinely target the other's leaders. A government airstrike in November killed the rebels' political leader, S.P. Tamilselvan, and an attack Sunday killed a top rebel intelligence officer, Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, also known as Col. Charles.
The rebels have tried repeatedly to kill senior government and military officials, though the attack Tuesday was their first successful assassination in 19 months.
The bomb tore through the car carrying Nation Building Minister D.M. Dassanayake as he traveled through the Ja-Ela area, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital, Colombo, said Nanayakkara. The blast also killed another person and wounded 10 others.
Dassanayake had been assigned to help coordinate efforts to rebuild Sri Lanka's Eastern Province after government forces drove the rebels from the area in July. Rajapaksa suggested Dassanayake was killed because his work in the east angered the rebels.
The rebels have been blamed for a spate of assassination attempts.
In November, a suicide bomber killed an aide to Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda in a failed attack on the minister. Bombing attacks in 2006 also failed to kill Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother.
The last successful assassination took place in June 2006, when the rebels killed Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, the country's third-ranking military officer.
More than 70,000 people have been killed since the rebels began fighting in 1983 for an independent state for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority, claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.
A new wave of fighting in the north has killed 145 people 140 rebels and five soldiers in the six days since the government's withdrawal from the truce, according to the military.
Published: Wed Jan 9 11:09:53 EST 2008