10 Sri Lankan Soldiers Killed in Clash

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 14, 2007; 4:19 PM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Ten Sri Lankan soldiers died in a clash with Tamil Tiger rebels in the country's north on Saturday, the military said.

The fighting erupted when soldiers attacked and neutralized a rebel mortar position used to fire at government troops in the Vavuniya district, said military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe.

Samarasinghe initially said that one soldier died and 12 others were wounded in the battle. However, an official at the Media Center for National Security later said the death toll had risen to 10 and another 34 soldiers were wounded.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said in a statement the guerrillas had thwarted a two-pronged attempt by government troops to advance near their fortifications, backed by artillery and mortars.

Ilanthirayan said 16 soldiers were killed and 45 were wounded in the battle. He did not mention rebel casualties.

Also Saturday, the air force hit a rebel camp in the neighboring Mannar district. No casualty figures were available, an official said on condition of anonymity, citing government policy.

The northern clash came days after government troops captured the last rebel stronghold in Sri Lanka's east, the scene of heavy fighting over the last few weeks.

Wednesday's victory in Thoppigala gave the government total control of Eastern Province for the first time in 13 years.

The rebels, who still maintain a de facto state in parts of the north, vowed to hit military and economic targets in revenge. The Tigers say they have simply switched from conventional warfare to guerrilla tactics in the east.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, a predominantly Hindu group that has faced decades of discrimination by the predominantly Buddhist majority Sinhalese.

The Tamil Tigers are listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union.

The violence ebbed after Norway brokered a cease-fire between in 2002, but it flared in the past two years, with assassinations, airstrikes and steady fighting claiming more than 5,000 lives.

About 70,000 people have been killed in more than two decades of fighting.

© 2007 The Associated Press