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Report: Sri Lanka Rebels Kill 51 Troops

A pro-rebel Web site Saturday says Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers have killed 51 soldiers in fighting in the island's north.

TamilNet quotes the rebels' media unit as saying the clashes took place in Dharmapuram village after the military launched an offensive there Friday. The rebels said about 150 soldiers were wounded in the battle.

Sri Lanka's military rejected the rebels' account, saying just seven soldiers were killed in fighting Friday, along with about 20 rebels.

The conflicting reports come as Sri Lankan forces bear down on the rebels' final strongholds.

The military says the Tamil separatists are now confined to a 600 square-kilometer area in the north.

The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils. They say Tamils are treated as second-class citizens by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says tens of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians have fled northern areas where Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tigers are engaged in fierce combat.

Red Cross officials say displaced people are now concentrated in such a small area that health experts are concerned about the safety of their living conditions.

The Red Cross is the only relief organization that the Sri Lankan government allows in the conflict areas.

The government says it can handle a mass exodus of refugees.

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