COLOMBO: In heavy fighting across the forward defence lines in Vavuniya district in the north between the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) and the Tamil Tigers since Saturday, dozens on both sides are believed to have been killed.
While both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other, it is not possible to independently verify the claims as the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission is virtually grounded and there are no other independent observers in the battle zone.
According to TamilNet, it is the first time the Tigers have breached the Sri Lankan forward defence lines in Vavuniya.The Defence Ministry acknowledged the fighting and said the military troops launched a decisive retaliatory attack, engaging heavy artillery and mortars at identified LTTE gun positions northwest of Vavuniya.
"The LTTE flanks were repulsed due to the heavy military thrust, where it is believed that a large number of terrorists are entrapped in Mullikulama area. According to military officials, the army troops have `sledge hammered' the main terrorist offensive line, leaving large number of LTTE bodies scattered in the area. LTTE casualties are believed to be high with soaring death figures according to intercepted enemy communications," it said.
The Ministry said three soldiers died of injuries, while 20 with minor wounds were admitted to the General Hospital at Anuradhapura.
TamilNet said the Tigers launched a commando raid on Saturday night on Vavuniya Mannaar border villages where the Army had recently advanced its forward defence line.
Quoting LTTE military spokesman Irasiah Ilanthirayan, it said the Tigers destroyed an SLA artillery launch pad, seized military hardware, including a Buffel armoured personnel carrier, and established their FDL positions in Mullikkulam and Vilaththikkulam.
"Meanwhile, informed military sources in Vavuniya said 20 SLA troopers were killed, 40 wounded, an ammunition dump was destroyed in Pampaimadu and that the Tigers have seized a big haul of weapons in their raid Saturday night. Fighting is still continuing", it said.
TamilNet, which carried picture of a purported body of a SLA soldier, said the photos issued by the LTTE to the media indicated that the Tigers recovered at least one soldier's body.
Separately, the military said the security forces manning the forward defences north of Mannar shot dead two LTTE cadres.