Thursday, June 21, 2007
Sri Lankan soldiers searching the jungle in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka April 19, 2006. Sri Lankan troops killed around 30 Tamil Tigers in a clash overnight in jungle in the island's restive east, the military said on Wednesday, hours after the navy said it had killed around 40 insurgents in a sea battle. (Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi/Reuters)
Sri Lankan troops killed around 30 Tamil Tigers in a clash overnight in jungle in the island's restive east, the military said on Wednesday, hours after the navy said it had killed around 40 insurgents in a sea battle.
The military said soldiers had captured a rebel bunker line during the fight in a swathe of landlocked eastern jungle called Thoppigala, where Tiger fighters are still entrenched after the fall of their eastern stronghold.
The clash came hours after the navy said late on Tuesday it had destroyed five Tiger vessels after being attacked by two dozen rebel boats off Sri Lanka's far northern tip.
There has been a series of land and sea battles in recent months as Sri Lanka's long-running civil war flared into heavy action again.
"We have destroyed three satellite camps (in Thoppigala) and are clearing the area. There are a lot of minefields," said military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe.
"One Tamil civilian in the area said there are 73 prisoners being held by the Tigers there, including one army corporal," he added. "They cannot hold on to that area now because they don't have any food."
Samarasinghe estimated that around 150 Tiger fighters remained in the Thoppigala area.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), fighting for an independent state in the island's north and east and widely listed as a banned terrorist group, accused the navy of starting the sea battle. They said just two of their own fighters died in the confrontation.
"According to our people, they managed to damage one of the Sri Lankan Navy Dvora (attack boats)," a Tiger source said.
"The Sea Tigers lost two of their men and there is no damage to any of their boats reported. There is no information from the east yet."
There was no independent confirmation of what happened or of casualty tolls. Analysts say both sides tend to talk up enemy losses and play down their own.
The government is forging ahead with a plan to resettle tens of thousands of internally displaced from dusty camps in the east to areas southeast of Thoppigala, from where the distant sound of artillery and mortar bomb explosions can be heard.
Aid groups and displaced families alike have voiced concern about the safety of those being resettled, given that fighting is still going on in Thoppigala.
The land battle and clash at sea off Point Pedro in the northern army-held Jaffna peninsula, cut off from the rest of the island by rebel lines, come amid a rash of battles on land and at sea as well as ambushes and air strikes.
Fighting is now focused on the north after the military captured the Tigers' eastern stronghold earlier this year. Around 4,500 people have been killed since last year alone.
A parallel propaganda war is also raging.
Pro-rebel Web site www.tamilnet.com has accused the Sri Lankan government of blocking access to local readers. The site cannot be viewed through state carrier Sri Lanka Telecom's Internet services, but both the company and government denied on Wednesday they were interfering.
Reporters have been stopped from visiting Tiger-held areas since August 2006 for what the government says are security reasons, but one top official told Reuters it was to avoid Tiger propaganda being spread.
The government has vowed to destroy the Tigers militarily, while the rebels have threatened to use all of their means to battle the state. These include suicide bombers and light aircraft smuggled into the country in pieces which have been used in a series of bombing raids on government targets.
Analysts say there is no clear winner on the horizon and fear a conflict that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 could rumble on for years.