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42 die in rebel attack in Lanka: Govt

world Updated: Aug 06, 2008 12:18 IST

Some 38 guerrillas and four soldiers died in fierce fighting as Sri Lankan troops beat back a major Tamil rebel attack in the island's north, the defence ministry said on Wednesday.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) mounted the counter-offensive in the district of Vavuniya late on Tuesday, the ministry said, adding troops returned fire with artillery and multi-barrel rockets.

Some 38 rebels were killed and another 94 wounded in the clashes in the northern region while four soldiers were killed and 13 wounded.

There was no immediate word from the Tigers about the latest fighting.

The new fighting raised the number of rebels who have died in combat since January to 5,595, while 510 soldiers have been killed in the same period, according to a tally of defence ministry figures.

Independent verification of government figures is not possible as Colombo bars reporters from travelling to combat zones.

Tens of thousands have died since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched an armed struggle in 1972 aimed at carving out a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the island's north and east.

Sri Lankan troops have been escalating their efforts to dismantle the de facto separate state the rebels maintain in the north of the country.

The government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the rebels in January.

Last month, Sri Lanka's army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said his forces had wiped out two-thirds of the Tigers' military capability and that the conflict with the rebels was "nearing the turning point".