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Sri Lanka: 50 rebels killed in clashes

Sri Lankan troops have killed at least 50 Tamil Tiger rebels in fighting in the island’s north, the military said on Thursday.

Fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has intensified since the government scrapped a six-year-old ceasefire pact last month. The government says the rebels had used the truce to re-arm.

Sri Lankan forces are trying to drive the rebels from their northern stronghold and bring an end to a 25-year civil war, but analysts say neither side is winning and predict the fighting will grind on.

On Wednesday, troops killed 50 rebel fighters in a series of clashes in the northern districts of Vavuniya and Polonaruwa and the north-western district of Mannar, the military said.

The military had earlier said a rebel mine blast in Vavuniya on Wednesday killed two soldiers and wounded six, while six more soldiers were wounded in fighting elsewhere.

”The pressure we are applying will be continued,” said military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara. ”Our operations against them will continue to impose maximum casualties to LTTE and regain LTTE-held areas.”

The rebels were not available for comment and analysts say both sides tend to inflate enemy casualty figures in the absence of independent accounts of the fighting.

Buoyed by battlefield victories in the east, where it has captured swathes of rebel-held terrain, the government is now seeking to overrun the separatist Tigers’ northern stronghold and has vowed to defeat them militarily.

But the Tigers continue to mount deadly suicide attacks and roadside bombings, which are increasingly scattered, with some in the capital Colombo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was deeply concerned about the growing number of civilian casualties as the state and the rebels embark on a new chapter of a civil war that has killed more than 70 000 people since 1983.

The ICRC said 180 civilians were reported killed and almost 270 wounded so far this year in bombings on buses, train stations and in the streets. The Sri Lankan government has blamed most of the attacks on the rebels. — Reuters

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