Lanka clashes claim 12 rebels, two soldiers

Colombo, May 20:

The latest round of fighting in the government’s campaign to seize Tamil Tiger rebel strongholds in Sri Lanka’s volatile north has killed 12 guerrillas and two government soldiers, the military said today.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not immediately available for comments on the fighting that occurred yesterday in the Vavuniya and Welioya regions.

Intense fighting in several places on Sunday killed 61 rebels and 17 soldiers, according to the military. A pro-rebel web site reported that 26 solders and three rebels were killed.

The figures cannot be independently verified as the government bars media, aid workers and rights groups from visiting frontline areas. Forces have tried for months to break into the well-guarded rebel territory from four fronts, promising to dismantle their de facto state by the end of the year.

However, military analysts have said military progress has been slower than expected because the rebels have retained much of their capacity to resist. Violence has escalated since Colombo pulled out of a six-year truce with the LTTE.