33 killed in fresh Lankan fighting
New fighting in Sri Lanka's civil war killed 31 Tamil Tiger rebels and two government soldiers, the military said yesterday.
In the worst clash Saturday, 18 rebels and a soldier were killed in Mannar district, a military official said on condition of anonymity, citing government rules. Seven rebels and a soldier were killed in Vavuniya while six guerrillas died in Welioya, he said.
It said 26 rebels were also wounded in the clashes that killed two government soldiers and wounded seven more.
The air force was called in to bomb suspected Tiger positions in the Wanni, the ministry said.
For their part, the Tigers said the aerial attack destroyed livestock and wounded a 20-year-old woman. There was no immediate word from the Tigers about ground clashes.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment, and it was not possible to verify the military's claims because reporters are barred from the war zone.
Each side often exaggerates the casualties and damage inflicted on its enemy while underreporting its own losses.
The government has intensified its campaign against the rebels' de facto state in the north after promising to crush them by the end of this year. However, army commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka recently said it might take another year to significantly weaken the rebels.
The latest figure given by the ministry raises the number of rebels killed by government forces to 4,907 since January, while 437 soldiers have died in the same period.
Casualty figures on both sides cannot be independently verified as the defence ministry bars journalists from travelling to the frontlines. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in fighting since 1972.
The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.