Fierce fighting broke out between government troops and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in northern Sri Lanka, leaving 30 guerrillas dead, an official said. Meanwhile, four prominent activists resigned from a government advisory panel on human rights, saying that officials were more interested in fighting separatist rebels than protecting human rights.
In Mullikulam village in northern Vavuniya district, rebels tried to attack a defense line on Monday, sparking a fierce gunbattle, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.
"Ground troops have confirmed that 30 Tigers have been killed, we have recovered five bodies," he said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not be reached for comment and the military's claims could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile, the Tigers launched a rare attack on a military patrol in the relatively untroubled south, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. The attack was near the Yala wildlife park which is popular with tourists, and there has been no word of casualties.
Sri Lanka's more than two decade civil conflict has largely been confined to the ethnic Tamil-majority north and east, and attacks in the majority Sinhalese south are rare.
In the northern districts of Mannar and Vavuniya, suspected rebels shot dead two policemen and wounded two more in separate incidents, said an official at the Defense Ministry information center said.
The shootings follow the deaths of at least 21 people in weekend clashes across the north.
Meanwhile, the resigning panel members said they felt "deep regret" that it had failed to push the government to investigate and prosecute soldiers, police officers and other gunmen blamed for an ongoing wave of assassinations, illegal detentions and disappearances
"The best efforts of the committee to contribute to human rights protection has been vitiated by either the unwillingness and/or inability of the government to take its advice seriously. In fact, violations have increased since the committee was constituted," said a letter submitted by the four activists. The 10-member panel was formed last year.
Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe acknowledged there were "shortcomings" in the government's human rights efforts. However, the panel had several successes, including persuading the president to reissue directives to security forces on the proper procedures for arrests and detentions, he said.
Criticism of the government's human rights record has escalated over the past two years as a 2002 cease-fire accord with Tamil Tiger separatists collapsed amid new fighting that has killed more than 5,000 people.
The government has vowed to eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the deadliest guerrilla armies in the world. The rebels are fighting the government for an independent state for the island's ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east. More than 70,000 people have been killed in violence since 1983.