Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sri Lanka: Military and rebels in heavy fighting

Sri Lanka's military says its troops have killed at least 20 Tamil Tiger rebels during a clash in the country's northwest, while rebels say they killed 20 soldiers.

The military said soldiers pushed into rebel territory Saturday and seized parts of the northern Mannar district from the Tigers. Officials did not immediately comment on military casualties.

A rebel spokesman said the government launched an offensive, but the rebels pushed them back. He said more than 40 soldiers were wounded in the fighting, and three rebels were killed.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Also Saturday, Sri Lanka's defense secretary called for an end to a cease-fire between the government and the rebels, citing continuing violations to the 2002 agreement.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse told a state-run daily newspaper that the cease-fire exists only on paper, and formally ending it would be sensible.

He urged the government to officially ban the rebel group, calling it a terrorist organization. Rajapakse is the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland for nearly 25 years, claiming discrimination by Sri Lanka's majority-Sinhalese government. Fighting between the two side has surged over the past year, despite the cease-fire.