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Violence Continues in Sri Lanka's North


Sri Lankan officials say at least 11 people have died in clashes in the country's north, days after the prime minister announced imminent victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers.

The Defense Department Thursday said an air force operation killed eight Tamil Tigers in northern Sri Lanka. The military said at least one soldier was killed in the fighting.

The government also accused the rebels of killing two civilians while they gathered firewood in the eastern district of Trincomalee on Wednesday.

A separatist Web site reported the killings of the two civilians without saying who was behind the deaths.

Separately today, Sri Lanka's state media reports the country's Human Rights minister has asked Amnesty International to retract a recent statement which blames the government for the plight of civilians in Sri Lanka.

An Amnesty report earlier this year said civilians are increasingly vulnerable to violence in Sri Lanka, as the government and Tamil Tiger rebels continue to fight. The report said Sri Lanka's deteriorating situation has also fueled concerns about the administration of justice and the misuse of emergency claims.

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake said government troops were launching a major offensive to seize control of the rebels' administrative capital in the town of Kilinochchi. He said the troops could be successful in capturing the town by next week.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to establish an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil community. Tamils are an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka, and many say the Sinhalese majority discriminates against them.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.