Sri Lanka to press on fight with rebels
Thu April 24, 2008 17:23 EDT .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka - 's government said Thursday it will push ahead with efforts to destroy the Tamil Tiger rebel movement this year despite a ferocious battle a day earlier that left at least 76 soldiers dead or missing.
Even as the government expressed confidence in its fight, the rebels said they killed 20 more soldiers Thursday in new fighting in another area of the war zone.
``The liberation operation will continue,'' Cabinet Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said, reaffirming a government campaign to crush the rebels and ``end terrorism by the end of the year.''
Wednesday's battle was a setback in the government's offensive against the Tamil Tigers and their de facto state in the north of this South Asian island nation. The 43 soldiers killed and 33 missing was the military's heaviest loss since an October 2006 battle on the same stretch of land killed 129 government troops.
Air force jets staged strikes Thursday on a base where the insurgents' suicide attackers are trained, the military said. Troops also killed four rebels in the Welioya area, the military spokesman, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said in an e-mailed statement that the insurgents killed 20 soldiers early in the day in northern Mannar district. The military denied there was any fighting in Mannar.
In discussing Wednesday's bloody battle, the military said fighting broke out just before dawn when rebel forces overran government positions in the rugged Muhamalai region. Thousands of government soldiers fought back and seized 500 yards of rebel territory, the military said.
The military said 100 guerrillas were killed. The rebels said they lost only 16 fighters and claimed more than 100 government soldiers died.
Independent accounts of the fighting are unavailable because journalists are barred from the war zone. Reporters also were not allowed to meet with wounded soldiers taken to hospitals.
A former army commander, retired Gen. Jerry de Silva, said the military might be overstretched in trying to wage war in the north while defending the south from suicide bombings blamed on the rebels.
Fighting between the two sides has escalated since the government pulled out of a long-ignored cease-fire with the rebels in January.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Published: Thu Apr 24 19:07:10 EDT 2008