The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Clashes leave dozens dead in Sri Lanka: defence ministry

Sri Lanka marked its traditional new year Sunday with security forces and Tamil separatists locked in fierce combat resulting in heavy losses on both sides, defence officials said.

Security forces pounded Tamil Tiger positions in the rebel-held northern Wanni region and troops smashed bunkers belonging to rebels in the Jaffna peninsula, further north, the defence ministry said.

At least 87 guerrillas had been killed since Saturday, the ministry said.

The latest clashes came as the country marked the new year, which is observed by the majority Sinhalese community and the minority Tamils.

Police said they stepped up security in the capital Colombo and elsewhere amid fears of rebel attacks during the festive period. Most Sri Lankans in cities travel to the provinces to be with their families over the new year.

Festivities were also marred by a nation-wide electricity breakdown for nearly an hour, officials said, adding that a technical failure at a power station caused the blackout.

In the north of the island, ferocious battles erupted on Saturday when the military launched a fresh advance into rebel-held territory, the defence ministry said.

It said troops captured areas from the guerrillas, a claim denied by the Tigers.

The ministry said troops killed at least 77 Tigers for the loss of 12 government soldiers in the Mannar area of Wanni region on Saturday while another soldier and 10 rebels were killed elsewhere.

However, a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam statement said the Tigers lost only three of their fighters in Mannar, adding that the Tigers killed at least 25 government troops and wounded another 75 in eight hours of fighting.

At least 2,845 Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed by government troops since the start of the year, while 171 soldiers have lost their lives during the same period, according to defence ministry figures.

Verification of casualty claims is impossible as Colombo bars journalists and aid workers from travelling to embattled areas.

Tens of thousands of people have died since 1972 when the Tamil Tigers launched an armed struggle to carve out an independent homeland in the island's north and east for Tamils.

Source: AFP