45 killed in fresh Lankan fighting
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers said yesterday they had killed 10 soldiers while security forces said they killed 35 rebels during the latest heavy clashes across the island's north.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the clashes took place Wednesday in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Welioya and Jaffna areas bordering the rebels' de facto state in the north.
In the worst battle, soldiers killed 20 insurgents in Vavuniya and five soldiers were wounded, he said. Clashes in the nearby Mannar district killed 11 rebels and wounded one soldier, while other battles in Jaffna and Welioya killed four rebels and one soldier, he said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not immediately available for comment.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said their fighters had beaten back an army attempt to break through their forward defence lines near Vavuniya during a six-hour battle on Wednesday.
"The Sri Lanka army has suffered casualties, at least 10 killed,"
the LTTE was quoted as saying by the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website. The rebels did not disclose details about their own casualties.
It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because journalists are banned from the northern jungles where much of the fighting takes place. Each side commonly exaggerates its enemy's casualties and plays down its own.
The government has pledged to capture rebel-held territory and to crush the insurgents by the end of the year.
The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalised by successive governments controlled by majority Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's defence ministry has launched scathing attacks against journalists critical of its war against Tamil rebels, labelling them "cowboy defence analysts" and "enemies of the state."
In two commentaries published on its website, the ministry also railed against what it said was "crap" being written about its escalating effort to eject the Tamil Tigers from the island's north.
The ministry presents reporters with a stark choice of being either pro-government or pro-terrorist -- sparking renewed alarm among media rights activists about freedom of the press in Sri Lanka.
The defence ministry, headed by the hawkish brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, said "media personnel may have their individual reservations of the war against terror," but stressed that the "success of any war effort needs public support."
"The armed forces of this country are engaged in the noble mission of liberating the country from the clutches of terrorism," said one of the commentaries carried on the official defence.lk website this week.
It said some writers were damaging morale, and warned that the ministry "does not wish to entertain mere doomsayers who always try to undermine the soldiers' commitment."
It also warned it would take "all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery against the country," but did not elaborate.
"Those who commit such treachery should identify themselves with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) rather than showing themselves as crusaders of media freedom," added the article.
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press rights watchdog, said it was "very shocked" by the comments and accused the ministry of giving "indirect support and justification for all the recent violence against the press.”