Sri Lanka says fresh fighting kills 42

Sri Lankan troops killed 38 Tamil Tiger rebels for the loss of four soldiers in fresh fighting in the island’s north, the military said on Friday.

Thursday’s fighting came as the military captured stretches of Tiger-held terrain in the north-western district of Mannar as part of a wider strategy to gradually retake the Tigers’ northern stronghold and win a 25-year civil war.

”Troops killed 38 LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] terrorists,” said a military spokesperson, asking not to be named in line with policy. Four soldiers were killed and 19 wounded in the fighting, he added.

The military said the fighting was along a ”border” that separates rebel-held from government territory in the northern districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna, Polonnaruwa and north-western district of Mannar.

The fighting came the same day the Tigers accused the military of blowing up a rebel-backed parliamentarian with a roadside bomb in their de facto state in the north. The military denies any hand in the attack.

The LTTE, who want to create an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment on the latest fighting.

The government and rebels trade death toll claims that are rarely possible to independently verify.

Nordic truce monitors, who blamed troops and rebels for repeated abuses, were banished by the government after President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally scrapped a six-year truce in January.

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

An estimated 70 000 people have died since the civil war began in 1983.

Since the start of 2006, more than 6 500 rebels, 1 200 military personnel and over 980 civilians have been killed, according to the military, which says it aims to defeat the Tigers by the end of the year.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and roadside bombs, experts and the military say, which have deterred some tourists and have worried some investors in the $27-billion economy. — Reuters

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