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20 rebels killed, claims Sri Lanka

world Updated: Dec 12, 2007 02:18 IST
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Sri Lanka's defence ministry has claimed its forces have killed at least 20 Tamil Tiger rebels in renewed clashes in the north, but came in for a fresh warning against seeking a military solution.

The ministry said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels died in three separate clashes on Monday afternoon, bringing to at least 216 the number of guerrillas it has claimed to have killed since the beginning of the month.

Only a handful of government soldiers have been reported killed or injured in the same period.

No independent confirmation of the defence ministry claims were available, and journalists are barred from frontline areas. There was also no immediate word from the LTTE.

The latest government claim of heavy casualties came as the British high commissioner to Colombo, Dominick Chilcott, urged the government to reconsider its view that the long-running civil war can be won.

"I cannot tell whether the government armed forces are capable of defeating the LTTE on the battlefield," Chilcott said at a public lecture here on Monday evening.

"But Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and plenty of other conflicts tell us that winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war.

"Without resolving the underlying issues, even if the LTTE are badly beaten in the Wanni (where the Tigers maintain a mini-state), the conflict will continue in a different guise," he said.

He also underscored increasing international concern over the human rights situation in Sri Lanka — where the government is resisting calls for United Nations monitoring.

"Those who argue for the inviolability of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country are swimming against the tide of history," he said.

"There are many non-military interventions that a country can make — from arguing and persuading, to economic and political sanctions," he said.

On the LTTE, Chilcott said Britain was against its tactics but did not consider its demand for a separate state illegal.

"I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam (a separate Tamil state) is illegitimate... What is crucial, however, is what methods are used... And the LTTE's methods are simply unacceptable."