Seventeen rebels die in Sri Lanka

AGENCIES , COLOMBO

Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - Page 5

Sri Lankan troops killed 17 Tamil Tiger rebels in clashes in the north of the island, while a soldier was also killed in the fighting, a military spokesman said yesterday.

The clashes, in the northern district of Vavuniya and northwestern district of Mannar on Friday, were the latest engagements in a a renewed civil war between government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters.

"Troops attacked terrorist bunkers in Vavuniya in two separate places. Intercepted communications said eight terrorists were killed," a spokesman at the Media Center for National Security said.

The military added that nine rebels were killed and 14 wounded in further confrontations and artillery fire in the Vavuniya and Mannar districts, while a soldier was also killed in the fighting in Vavuniya.

The Tigers, who say they are fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east, were not immediately available for comment.

There was no independent confirmation of how many people were killed in the fighting or what had happened. Military analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

The fighting follows a major battle in the Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday in which the military said they killed 60 rebels. The Tigers said 20 soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded in the clash, and that just one of their fighters was killed.

An air strike last week killed the leader of the Tigers' political wing in a blow to hopes of ending the two-decade conflict soon.

The military has launched an offensive to drive out the rebels from Mannar, after evicting them from jungle terrain they controlled in the east earlier this year.

A Norwegian-brokered ceasefire in 2002 brought relative calm to the country, but a new wave of violence that began in December 2005 has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. More than 70,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1983.

Despite the ceasefire's collapse, neither side has officially withdrawn from the pact, fearing international isolation.