Sri Lanka fighting kills 37 rebels in north

Sporadic clashes in the last two days between Tamil Tiger rebels and the military have killed 37 rebels, the military said on Wednesday, as daily land, sea battles and air raids continue in Sri Lanka’s far north.

The fighting came amidst news that Tamil Tiger second-in-command, Brigadier Balraj, died from a heart attack in rebel-held north on Tuesday. The rebels have declared three days of mourning.

”Troops killed 25 LTTE terrorists in fighting on Tuesday,” said a military spokesperson who asked not to be named.

The military also said 12 rebels were killed and three soldiers died in fighting on Monday, also in the north.

Fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has intensified since the government formally pulled out of a six-year-old ceasefire pact in January, though a renewed civil war has been raging since 2006.

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 the swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east.

The government has vowed to destroy the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are fighting for an independent state for minority Tamils, militarily by the end of the year but analysts say they see no clear winner on the horizon.

The military’s progress has been slower than expected and the rebels retain much of their capacity to resist and strike back, at times using deadly suicide attacks in heavily guarded capital Colombo.

Independent confirmation of battlefield casualties is not possible because of lack of access and both sides are known to exaggerate the other’s losses.

So far, according to a compilation of military data, about 360 rebels have been killed in the fighting in May with the loss of 41 soldiers. An estimated 70 000 people have been killed in the 25-year civil war. – Reuters

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