Sri Lankan troops backed by artillery and fighter jets continued to resist waves of Tamil Tiger rebels in deadly battles in the northern Jaffna peninsula, military officials said yesterday.
A military official said overnight attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against troops at Muhamali on the southern edge of the peninsula district led to casualties.
He said at least 10 soldiers had been killed and about 125 wounded in sporadic clashes along front lines in the past two days in a rebel offensive that began nine days ago.
The military has said that scores of rebels have been killed.
"The security forces today found over 80 dead bodies lying ahead of the forward defence lines," the ministry said in a statement. "The troops were in the process of collecting the dead bodies."
There was no immediate reaction from the Tamil rebels to the purported death toll, and no independent verification of the casualties was available.
Both sides are known to exaggerate casualty figures.
The fighting has left a 2002 ceasefire in tatters as the battle for Jaffna has effectively cut off the region from the rest of the island, creating food and fuel shortages for around 350,000 civilians and 40,000 troops there.
The UN said on Friday more than 41,000 people on the peninsula were believed to have fled their homes and warned that supplies in the area had reached "alarmingly low levels."
In total, nearly 170,000 civilians have fled their homes across the north and east since renewed fighting began in April, the UN refugee agency said.
A curfew in Jaffna was eased on Saturday and residents attempted to stock up on provisions but long lines, high prices and hoarding were reported.
An unspecified number of foreign nationals were also trapped in Jaffna as private flights to the local Palaly airfield were halted after it was hit last week by rebel shells.
Many foreign nationals of Sri Lankan origin visit relatives in Jaffna and aid agencies have expatriate staff in the region, including five with UN organizations, said officials.
In related news, Sri Lankan soldiers raided Jaffna University on Friday, seizing computers and detaining a student.
They broke into the offices of the university's student federation and arrested its leader, the pro-rebel Web site TamilNet said.
The military said the student group was a front for Tamil Tiger rebel activities, and said it found a large number of rebel pamphlets and a computer with "Tiger-related software."
A search of the surrounding area uncovered 15 anti-personnel mines and other equipment used to build anti-tank mines, military spokesman Major Upali Rajapakse said. Photographs of the alleged mines and confiscated items were displayed on the military's Web site.
TamilNet said the detained student was a third year arts major from Mullaitivu, deep inside rebel territory in the northeast.
It was not possible to reach the university for comment because of the conflict on the Jaffna peninsula.