Military: Soldiers capture small rebel territory as fighting kills 7 rebels
Tue March 4, 2008 03:33 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Government troops backed by artillery and mortar fire attacked Tamil separatists guarding a front line in northern Sri Lanka, killing seven rebels Tuesday and capturing a small piece of territory, the military said.
Troops seized about a square kilometer (0.39 square miles) of land in the Mannar district during an early morning battle that lasted one hour, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman. Nearby troops captured a rebel post and advanced about one kilometer (more than half a mile) in a separate battle, he said without giving details.
The significance of the territory seized was unclear and rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls seeking comment.
Also Tuesday, fighter jets pounded a rebel artillery gun position and an underground ammunition depot in the northern rebel-held Pooneryn area, said Air force spokesman Wing Commander Andy Wijesuriya.
He did not give details of casualties and damages, but said the bombing caused ``extensive damage'' to the rebels.
In scattered fighting along the front lines Monday, government soldiers killed 14 rebels, the military said Tuesday.
The government has said it aimed to capture the Tamil Tiger rebels' de facto state in the north and crush the group by the end of the year, but diplomats and other observers said the army was facing far more resistance than it had expected.
It was not possible to independently verify reports of the fighting because the government has restricted access to the northern jungles where the fighting was taking place. Both sides routinely exaggerate their opponents' casualty figures while underreporting their own.
The military said 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. Fighting, which has escalated over the past two years, further flared since the government announced in January it was pulling out of a tattered cease-fire.
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 Mar 4 06:16:00 EST 2008