Sri Lankan military says 35 killed in fighting
Fri September 5, 2008 03:55 EDT .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan forces attacked rebel boats and bunkers with artillery and ground assaults and Tamil separatists fought back with mortar fire and bomb attacks in a wave of violence that killed 30 rebels and five government troops, the military said Friday.
Fighting has escalated in recent weeks because of a government offensive deep into the jungles of northern Sri Lanka - , where the Tamil Tigers control a de facto state. The government has pledged to crush the rebel group by the end of the year.
In new fighting Thursday, troops destroyed two rebel boats off the island nation's coast in an artillery attack, the military said. Government forces also destroyed five bunkers in the Jaffna and Welioya regions, the military said in a statement.
In the worst of the fighting, government troops killed 12 rebels and lost one soldier in battles across the Kilinochchi region, in the rebels' heartland, the military said. A second soldier was killed in a booby trap, it said.
Fighting in Welioya, Jaffna and Vavuniya killed another 18 rebels and two soldiers, one of whom was killed in a mortar attack, the military said.
Meanwhile, a member of an elite government security force was killed by a rebel bomb in the eastern region of Batticaloa, which the government seized from the rebels last year.
With communication all but cut with the northern areas, rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not be reached for comment.
Independent verification of the fighting and casualties was not possible because most 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.
The recent surge in fighting has forced between 70,000 and 85,000 people to flee their homes and head deeper into rebel-held territory, bringing the total number of displaced civilians there to 160,000, according to the United Nations.
Estimates of the total population in the rebel area range from 250,000 to 400,000.
Aid workers have expressed concerns for the safety of the fleeing civilians and their access to food, water and shelter as the fighting wears on.
``As the days go past, the conditions for people deteriorate, they are getting harder and harder, more and more people are displaced from their homes and their coping mechanisms are eroded,'' said U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss. ``A lot of people have been displaced multiple times.''
In leaflets dropped in rebel areas last week, the government accused the rebels of using the civilians as human shields and urged the population to flee to government-held areas for their safety.
The military has announced plans to create a humanitarian corridor through the front lines to allow civilians to escape, but has yet to announce its location or timing.
The presence of large numbers of civilians in a rapidly shrinking area could complicate the military's fight against the rebel group, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, said analyst Susantha Seneviratne, a retired colonel.
The military will almost certainly have to restrict its aerial attacks and artillery and mortar fire which will probably slow its offensive if it wants to avoid major civilian casualties, he said.
``It's going to depend on how the LTTE is going to use these civilians. I think the LTTE is going to want to keep the civilians in and around Kilinochchi,'' he said, referring to the rebels' administrative capital.
The rebels accused the government last week of killing five civilians, including two children, when a shell hit a shelter for the displaced.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the military might have to alter its plans when the fighting approaches a more populated area.
``We will be concerned (for the civilians), so then we will have to adopt a different kind of tactics,'' he said, without providing details.
Published: Fri Sep 5 06:15:09 EDT 2008