New Sri Lankan fighting kills 40 combatants
Mon August 4, 2008 06:42 EDT .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan troops repulsed an attempt by Tamil rebels to retake a recently captured guerrilla stronghold in heavy fighting that killed 21 rebels and three soldiers, the military said Monday.
Thirteen rebels and three soldiers were killed in other clashes Sunday in the Mannar, Vavuniya and Welioya regions, bordering the rebels' de facto state in the north, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman.
The new fighting occurred despite a cease-fire offered by rebels while leaders from eight South Asian countries met over the weekend in the tightly guarded capital, Colombo.
The heaviest fighting was reported in Mannar's Vellankulam area, a guerrilla stronghold that was seized by government troops on Saturday, Nanayakkara said. It was the last rebel stronghold in the area.
The rebels ``attempted to retake the lost territory, but soldiers repulsed their attack,'' Nanayakkara said.
Sunday's fighting, which lasted about 10 hours, killed 21 guerrillas and three soldiers, he said.
Separately, army troops seized a rebel camp in Mannar in fighting that killed five rebels and two soldiers, Nanayakkara said.
Also Sunday, three rebels and one soldier died in a clash in Welioya while in the nearby Vavuniya district, five rebels died in two clashes, he said.
Meanwhile, three soldiers were killed in a grenade explosion while training Sunday in the northern Jaffna district, he said. The incident was being investigated but did not appear to involve any rebel attack, he said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not available for comment. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because journalists are barred from the war zone.
The fighting Sunday coincided with the annual summit of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Colombo.
The guerrillas had declared an unilateral cease-fire from July 26 as a goodwill gesture for the summit, but said they would defend themselves if attacked.
The government rejected the cease-fire as a ploy by the rebels to gain time to regroup after several recent battlefield losses, and continued with ground and air attacks against guerrilla targets.
The Tamil Tigers are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and India.
The rebels have been fighting for an independent state in the north and east since 1983, following decades of marginalization of ethnic Tamils by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. The fighting has escalated in recent months after the government vowed to crush the rebels by the end of the year.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Published: Mon Aug 4 07:34:22 EDT 2008