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7 Tamil rebels killed in fighting: Lanka

world Updated: Mar 07, 2009 12:58 IST
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Seven insurgents were killed as Sri Lankan soldiers pressed forward to capture a tiny slice of land still controlled by ethnic Tamil separatists, the military said on Saturday.

Government troops have seized nearly all the rebels' strongholds and the insurgents _ who once controlled a vast swath of territory _ are now cornered in an area less than 19 square miles (50 square kilometers), according to the military.

Troops found the bodies of seven insurgents after Friday's clashes in Palayamattalan, one of the last rebel-held villages near the island's northeastern coast, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Rebel officials could not be reached for comment and battlefield details can't be verified independently because journalists are barred from the war zone.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said continued harassment and restrictions on the Sri Lankan media has made it impossible to get an impartial picture of what is happening in the country. "Without a free media able to express alternative views and offer the opportunity for public scrutiny, abuses can flourish under a veil of secrecy and denial," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka researcher.

"By threatening journalists with the risk of arrest, and failing to protect them from attack, the government is failing its citizens," she told a vigil in London to mark a prominent Sri Lankan journalist's first year in prison.

Last year, JS Tissainayagam was indicted under an anti-terrorism law for two articles he wrote for a magazine that discussed issues confronting Tamils.

Amnesty International says at least 14 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2006. It says others have been arbitrarily detained, tortured or have disappeared while in the custody of security forces.

The rebels have fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalisation at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.