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22 Tamil rebels, 2 soldiers killed

world Updated: May 23, 2008 12:10 IST

Government troops and ethnic Tamil separatists fought gunbattles that killed 22 rebels and two soldiers in war-ravaged northern Sri Lanka, the military said on Friday. Fighting has escalated in recent months along the front lines separating government-controlled territory and the Tamil Tiger rebels' de facto state in the north.

The government has pledged to capture the rebel-held territory and crush the insurgents by the end of the year. Diplomats and other observers say, however, that the army has faced more resistance than expected.

The latest battles erupted Thursday in the Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Welioya areas bordering the rebel-held territory, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.

In the worst of the fighting soldiers killed 11 insurgents in three separate clashes in Vavuniya, Nanayakkara said, adding that 10 soldiers were wounded there.

Other battles in the three areas killed 11 rebels and two soldiers, he said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because media are banned from the northern jungles where much of the fighting takes place. Each side commonly exaggerates the other's casualties while playing down its own.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.