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At Least 90 Soldiers, Rebels Killed in Sri Lanka's Heavy Fighting


In Sri Lanka, heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels has killed at least 90 soldiers and rebels and wounded hundreds of others. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the government says it is confident about defeating the rebels, who have been fighting for a quarter century for an autonomous Tamil homeland.

Defense ministry officials say fighting broke out under cover of darkness, Wednesday, and raged for several hours in the northern Jaffna Peninsula. They say hundreds of rebels and soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle in Muhamalai.

Both sides accuse each other of starting the fighting. The government says Tamil rebels attacked their positions, while the rebels say the army launched an offensive after they repulsed an assault, Tuesday.

Officials say Wednesday's battle was one of the heaviest between the two sides, this year.

The government has pledged to destroy the rebels, militarily. It turned its focus to the northern strongholds of the Tamil Tigers after successfully driving them out of their eastern bases, last year.

Government defense affairs spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella says the miltary campaign in the north is proceeding well.

"Well, we are quite confident of moving and liberating the people of the north, particularly in Killinochi and Wanni. So we are working toward that with confidence, and very fast," Rambukwella said.

Analysts say, for the time being, the government appears to have the upper hand on the battlefield. But they say it will not be easy to dislodge the rebels from the north, where they control vast swathes of territory.

The head of Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehen Perera, says the military is making slow progress against the rebels, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -- LTTE.

"In the north, it is difficult to say that the LTTE have weakened, because after over six months of very fierce fighting, the government success has been very limited in terms of the amount of territory it has been able to capture," Perera said. "They have been able to go forward only one or two kilometers in various places, which is not a lot of territory."

The rebels have been fighting for an autonomous homeland for the minority Tamil community since 1983. Several attempts at peace talks have collapsed. The fighting has claimed more than 70,000 lives.


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