Sri Lanka says soldiers seize small area of rebel-held territory, kill 22 Tamil rebels
Tue January 29, 2008 05:26 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan soldiers captured a small area of rebel-held territory after pushing across the front lines in the country's embattled north on Tuesday, triggering battles that left 22 insurgents dead, said the military.
Backed by artillery and mortars, army troops destroyed 10 rebel bunkers and seized about 1 square kilometer (0.39 sq. miles) of territory in the village of Viyattankulam in Mannar district early Tuesday, said a defense ministry official.
The battle lasted about four hours and left 10 rebels dead, said the official speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
In nearby Palaikkuli village, troops destroyed six rebel bunkers, killing 12 guerrillas, he said, adding that the military suffered no casualties. A small area of rebel land was also captured in Palaikkuli.
It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because the fighting took place deep in the northern jungles, where access is restricted. Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls seeking comment on the military's claims.
Both sides often release inflated enemy casualty figures while underreporting their own.
Government troops have opened up four fronts around the Tigers' de facto state in the north, while the air force has targeted the group's leadership in a bid to crush the rebels' decades-old separatist war.
Soldiers have 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, according to the military.
Intense fighting had already flared further earlier this month when the government announced it was pulling out of a 2002 cease-fire, which had long been ignored by both sides.
More than 700 people have been killed since the cease-fire officially ended, according to the military.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state in the north and east for the country's ethnic Tamil minority after decades of being marginalized by Sinhalese-dominated governments. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people.Discuss this story
Published: Tue Jan 29 07:42:36 EST 2008