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Soldiers and rebels clash in Sri Lanka; official says 13 insurgents killed

Soldiers and rebels clash in Sri Lanka; official says 13 insurgents killed

At least 13 Tamil rebels have been killed in two days of clashes with Sri Lankan forces in the country's north, the military said Wednesday.
The fiercest fighting took place in rebel-held territory just beyond Mannar district in the northwest, which has emerged in recent weeks as a flash point in Sri Lanka's escalating conflict.
The intensifying clashes in and around Mannar _ along with of a series of rebel air raids _ have raised widespread concerns that Sri Lanka's conflict is entering an even more dangerous phase as the government amps up its pressure on northern insurgent strongholds.
Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said soldiers had confirmed killing at least 10 Tamil Tiger rebels in the two days of fighting in areas beyond the frontier between government and rebel territory in Mannar. The battles took place after army forces crossed into rebel territory to conduct search operations.
He said the military suffered no causalities.
In a separate battle in a rebel-held area Tuesday, insurgents in the northeastern district of Welioya attacked a group of soldiers, Samarasinghe said. Troops killed three rebels.
The rebels, who regularly dispute government death tolls, were not immediately available for comment.
The clashes in Mannar follow fighting last week in the same area that the government says killed 21 rebels and two soldiers.
Separately on Wednesday, police said unidentified gunmen killed two Tamil civilians in the northern town of Vavuniya.
The victims were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind them before they were shot, said Ranjan Senanayake, a local police official. The motive behind the killings and the identity of the assailants were not immediately known.
The civilian and rebel killings come as Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese Buddhists celebrate Vesak, a holiday marking the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. The festivities, which started Tuesday, usually go on for a week.
The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.1 million Hindu Tamils, a minority concentrated in eastern and northern Sri Lanka.
The Tamils have faced decades of discrimination from the Sinhalese, who make up a majority of the Indian Ocean island nation's 19 million people.
At least 65,000 people were killed before a cease-fire was signed in 2002.
Another 4,000 have died since the cease-fire _ which remains officially in place _ began collapsing in December 2005 with sporadic shootings and bombings by government forces and the Tigers. Full-scale fighting broke out in eastern Sri Lanka in August.
Violence has spread in recent months as the military pushed the rebels from the east and began massing troops near a wide swath of territory in the north that the rebels consider the heartland of the future Tamil state they are fighting to create.
The rebels have responded with artillery attacks, bus bombings, raids into government territory and their first-ever air raids, using small single-propeller planes to drop homemade bombs.
The most recent air raid targeted a fuel refinery and gasoline storage facility near Colombo, forcing authorities to cut power to the city and shut its international airport.


Updated : 2021-04-12 10:13 GMT+08:00