Dozens killed as Sri Lanka death toll rises

COLOMBO, Reuters

Sri Lankan troops fought artillery duels and close-quarter battles with Tamil Tiger rebels in the island’s northwest on Saturday, as each side claimed to have killed dozens of foes over three days. The military said it believed it had killed at least 45 Tiger rebels in the clashes in the northwestern district of Mannar, where renewed civil war is spreading from the east, saying nine soldiers were killed and 46 wounded since Thursday.

Pro-rebel Web site said the Tigers said at least 60 troops were killed, their corpses carried away from the battlefield in tractors — which the army denied.

“There is sporadic fighting in the northern districts of Mannar and Vavuniya,” said Lieutenant Colonel Upali Rajapakse of the Media Centre for National Security. “There is some ground offensive fighting and close quarter fighting. At least 45 Tigers have been killed.” The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not immediately available for comment, but both sides are believed to have exaggerated past enemy losses and played down their own. Troops were fighting ahead of their forward defense lines, which places them either in no-man’s land or in territory the Tigers control under the terms of a now battered 2002 truce.

In separate incidents, troops shot dead two suspected Tigers near a ‘border’ that separates the army-held northern Jaffna peninsula from rebel terrain, while a suicide bomber killed himself and a soldier in the area.

Nordic truce monitors said a Tiger multi barrel rocket launcher attack in the eastern district of Batticaloa killed a 10-year-old girl.