May 19, 2008 / 9:34 AM / 11 years ago

Heavy fighting in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka military attacked rebel positions in the island’s far north on Sunday, amidst daily land, air and sea raids, killing 61 Tamil Tiger rebels, the military said on Monday.

A Sri Lankan soldier patrols on railway tracks in Colombo in this February 4, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe

The fresh attacks, which also saw 15 soldiers killed, came after a rebel suicide bomber riding a motorbike killed 11 people, mostly police officers, in the capital Colombo on Friday.

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.

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.

The most recent battles took place in the northern districts of Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa and the north-western district of Mannar, the military said.

The military also said air force helicopter gunships attacked rebel “tactical operations centre” in Mannar on Friday late night and Saturday in support of the ground troops.

Tamil Tiger rebels who are fighting for an independent state for minority Tamils in north and east, were not immediately available for comment on the latest fighting but pro-rebel website, www.tamilet.com, reported that Tamil Tiger rebels prevented a military attempt to push into rebel-held areas in Mannar on Sunday.

“The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Sunday thwarted a ground movement launched by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in Mannar, claiming that at least 26 SLA soldiers were killed in the fighting and that more than 50 SLA soldiers were wounded,” the website said quoting unnamed rebel officials in Vanni.

“Three Tiger fighters were killed in action and heavy fighting was continuing Monday morning amid artillery and mortar barrage from the SLA.”

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

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 swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and using roadside bombs, experts and the military say, which has deterred tourists and worried some investors in the $27 billion (13.7 billion pounds) economy.

Editing by Valerie Lee

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