Sri Lankan soldiers continued their push toward the Tamil Tiger rebels‘ de facto capital in the north, but faced stiff rebel resistance that left dozens dead on both sides, the military said Monday.
Government troops destroyed rebel defenses and breached huge earth barriers Sunday as they moved toward the rebel headquarters in Kilinochchi, the military said in a statement.
Tamil rebels counterattacked at several points, sparking fierce battles that killed 120 guerrillas and 27 soldiers, it said.
A pro-rebel report, meanwhile, said the guerrillas killed 43 soldiers in a separate battle Sunday and halted the government’s march toward a strategic crossroads northwest of Kilinochchi.
TamilNet quoted unidentified rebel officials as saying the clash occurred in Nalloor village. The rebels took away the bodies of eight soldiers, it said.
Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment on the government report because communication lines to the north have been severed.
The head of the government’s security information center, Lakshman Hulugalle, declined to comment on the report by the pro-rebel Web site, saying the government would not respond to accounts by rebel supporters.
Both sides routinely inflate the number of casualties they inflict on their opponents, and it is not possible to verify battlefield reports because most journalists are barred from the war zone.
The government has vowed to crush the rebels and end their decades-old separatist campaign. Government soldiers in recent months have captured a number of key rebel bases and large swaths of land previously controlled by the guerrillas, seizing the country’s entire west and forcing the insurgents into a shrinking territory in the northeast.
However, the rebels have offered stiff resistance as the soldiers approach Kilinochchi.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese.
More than 700,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Sri Lanka says 27 troops killed in heavy fighting
At least 27 soldiers were killed and another 70 wounded in fresh fighting around a key Tamil Tiger base in northern Sri Lanka, the defence ministry said on Monday.
An unspecified number of soldiers were also missing since intense battles broke out just outside Kilinochchi, the political capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), on Sunday, the ministry said.
Ending weeks of silence on battlefield casualties, the ministry said Tamil Tiger rebels had put up stiff resistance as security forces approached Kilinochchi from three separate fronts.
“Twenty-seven soldiers have made their ultimate sacrifice for the motherland while 70 others suffered injuries during the battle. A few other soldiers have not been able to join with their units so far,” the statement said.
It said intercepted radio transmissions of the Tigers indicated that they had also suffered heavy casualties.
“Over 120 LTTE cadres have been killed and 80 others injured in the Kilinochchi area since Sunday morning,” the ministry said.
The ministry statement came as the Tigers announced through the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website that 43 government troops had been killed and 70 more were wounded in a confrontation just northwest of Kilinochchi.