Sri Lankan military says 53 killed in fighting
Wed September 3, 2008 04:34 EDT .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Government forces pounded rebel defenses with airstrikes, helicopter attacks and ground assaults as heavy fighting across northern Sri Lanka - killed 47 Tamil Tiger fighters and left 13 soldiers dead or missing, the military said Wednesday.
A rebel-affiliated Web site claimed the Tamil Tigers had killed as many as 75 government soldiers in the recent fighting.
The intense battles came amid a punishing government thrust into rebel-held territory in recent weeks that has forced the guerrillas to abandon large parts of their de facto state and a succession of key bases and towns to the advancing military offensive.
The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of civilians, sending them fleeing deeper into rebel territory.
On Tuesday, troops captured the town of Mallavi, which lies along an important access road in the region and which the military described as an ``administrative hub'' for the rebels.
Battles raged Wednesday in the Nachchikuda area, deep inside the rebels' heartland of Kilinochchi, where Tamil Tiger fighters had built a dirt berm nearly 10 miles long and six to seven feet high, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
Air force jets and helicopters supported by ground troops attacked the berm Tuesday and Wednesday, destroying large sections of it, Nanayakkara said.
Also soldiers captured two defense lines in rebel-held villages Akkarayankulam and Terrankandal in the guerrilla stronghold of Kilinochchi district Tuesday and later beat back rebel attempts to regain the lines the same evening, the military said.
Fighting across Kilinochchi on Tuesday killed 22 rebels and five soldiers, Nanayakkara said. A further seven soldiers were missing, he said.
Another 25 rebels and one soldier were killed in fighting in the Vavuniya and Welioya regions, he said.
With communications to northern areas all but cut, rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not be reached for comment.
However, the rebel-affiliated TamilNet Web site, citing unidentified rebel officials, reported that 45 soldiers were killed between Monday night and Tuesday in fighting at Nachchikuda. A further 30 soldiers were killed in other battles, TamilNet reported without commenting on rebel casualties.
A photograph posted on the Web site showed what appeared to be the bodies of seven dead soldiers laid out on a blanket on the floor.
Nanayakkara dismissed the report.
Independent verification of the fighting and casualties was not possible because journalists are banned from the war zone. Both sides have been accused of exaggerating enemy casualties and underreporting their own.
The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for the country's ethnic minority Tamils after decades of marginalization at the hands of governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting on this Indian Ocean island nation.
Government officials, who formally pulled out of a tattered cease-fire in January, have vowed to crush the rebels by the end of the year.Discuss this story
Published: Wed Sep 3 05:54:30 EDT 2008