Sri Lanka , rebels locked in battle
Wed December 17, 2008 08:06 EST .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan fighter jets and attack helicopters pummeled rebel fortifications across the north Wednesday, the government said, a day after a series of raging battles killed scores of fighters.
The burst of violence came as Sri Lankan forces pushed ahead with their offensive against the Tamil Tigers' northern stronghold in the face of punishing seasonal rains and stiff rebel resistance.
In some of the worst fighting in recent weeks, government forces on Tuesday launched attacks on at least four rebel positions in Kilinochchi district and along the front lines on the Jaffna peninsula, the rebel-linked Web site TamilNet reported Wednesday, citing Tamil Tiger officials.
The rebels said they forced the troops to retreat after a day of bloody battles, killing 170 soldiers and wounding more than 400 others. Rebel forces recovered the bodies of 36 soldiers, TamilNet reported. The Tamil Tigers did not give details of their own casualties.
The rebels could not be directly contacted because communication lines to their territory have been severed during the fighting.
The government said Tuesday that 120 rebels and 25 soldiers were killed in the battles, and 10 other soldiers were missing. Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said Wednesday that the number of soldiers killed could rise by five or 10 ``but not more than that.''
Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties while underreporting their own. Journalists and independent observers are barred from the war zone, making it impossible to verify battlefield reports released by either side.
In the aftermath of the fighting, the air force sent fighter jets and helicopters on repeated bombing missions across the north Wednesday morning, hitting bunkers and other rebel positions, the military said in a statement.
TamilNet said the raids hit camps holding some of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced in the fighting, killing a 5-month-old infant and a man and wounding 13 others.
Nanayakkara denied the accusation, saying the air force only engaged rebel targets.
``This area is completely abandoned by civilians,'' he said.
The government has vowed to crush the separatists and has won a string of victories in recent months. It has seized large chunks of rebel-held territory, forcing the insurgents into a dwindling stronghold in the northeast corner of this Indian Ocean island nation.
However, the rebels have offered stiff resistance for nearly two months at the edge of Kilinochchi, the administrative capital of their de facto state, despite repeated government predictions of the town's ``imminent fall.''
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Published: Wed Dec 17 08:51:13 EST 2008