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ASIA: Heavy fighting kills 145 in Sri Lanka: military

By Amal Jayasinghe
17 Dec 2008 2:23 AM

COLOMBO, Dec 16 AFP - Intense fighting in northern Sri Lanka has left at least 25 government troops and 120 Tamil Tigers dead in ongoing battles for the rebels' political capital, a military spokesman says.

Security forces carried out simultaneous attacks against Tamil Tiger strong-points near the town of Kilinochchi, and also on the Jaffna peninsula on Tuesday, military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said.

In a rare statement announcing casualty figures, he said that another 160 government soldiers and an estimated 250 rebels were wounded. The military said 10 of its soldiers were also missing after the fighting.

The defence ministry decided in October to stop revealing daily casualty figures, saying they would affect military operations.

Nanayakkara said troops were consolidating positions they had captured from the Tigers, who have offered stiff resistance to government forces advancing on Kilinochchi, 330km north of Colombo.

The defence ministry said Mi-24 helicopter gunships were deployed to destroy a Tamil Tiger boat which had been attacking troops operating in a coastal area in the northern mainland on Tuesday.

There was no immediate comment from the Tamil Tigers, but the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said at least 40 government soldiers were killed and another 120 wounded on the Jaffna peninsula alone.

The website said fighting lasted nine hours, adding the Tigers had beaten back the military's advance in the peninsula, but it made no reference to the fighting in the Kilinochchi area.

Security forces this week escalated their ground attacks against Tamil Tiger guerrillas after heavy aerial attacks using jets and helicopter gunships.

Soldiers captured the village of Ampakamam, southeast of Kilinochchi, from the Tigers on Monday and a road leading to the rebel military base of Mullaittivu on Tuesday, the ministry said.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has been predicting the imminent fall of Kilinochchi for several months and the military recently said it was within "kissing distance" of the town.

But heavy rebel resistance and monsoon rains had slowed the army offensive.

Both sides have claimed to be inflicting heavy losses in the recent battles. It is not possible to verify the casualty claims as independent reporters and aid workers are banned from the north.

The Sri Lankan government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered 2002 truce in January. The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils from the majority Sinhalese community.