Mon, Jan 28, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Forty die during clashes with rebels in Sri Lanka

AP , COLOMBO

Fierce clashes between troops and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels left 12 insurgents and a soldier dead in northern Sri Lanka, lifting the death toll from a day of fighting to 40, the military said yesterday.

The latest battles were reported in northeastern Welioya village, where nine rebels were killed in two separate incidents on Saturday, a defense official said on condition of anonymity citing government rules.

In Muhamalai village in the north a soldier died in a rebel ambush and later government troops destroyed a bunker in the same region killing three rebels, he said.

Earlier, soldiers fired artillery and fought separate gunbattles in Welioya and northern Vavuniya village, killing 27 rebels, the military said.

Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment.

Government troops have opened up four fronts around the rebels' de facto state in northern Sri Lanka surrounding the territory, while the air force has launched a mission to kill the group's top brass and crush the rebels' decades-old separatist war.

On Saturday, air force jets targeted leaders of the rebels' sea wing in an airstrike on the guerrillas' naval headquarters near Puthukudiyiruppu village in Mullaitivu, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said, without providing details on damage.

A pro-rebel Web site, however, said the bombing struck the offices of British aid agency White Pigeon, which is involved in demining and designing prosthetics for land mine victims.

A spokesman at the aid agency's office in Britain said by phone that he had not heard of any damage to its offices in Sri Lanka. He declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the situation.

In November, the air force killed the Tigers' political wing head, S.P. Tamilselvan, believed by many to have been the rebels' No. 2 leader.

The military later claimed that top rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had been injured in another air raid. The guerrillas, however, denied he was hurt.

Fighting has raged around the rebels' de facto state in the north since the government announced earlier this month that it was pulling out of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire, which had long been ignored by both sides.

More than 500 people have been killed since the ceasefire officially ended, the military said.

The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state in the north and east for the country's ethnic Tamil minority after decades of being marginalized by Sinhalese-dominated governments. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people.

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