Fresh fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists across Sri Lanka's embattled north killed 17 rebels and four soldiers, the military said on Friday. Separately, Tamil rebels accused government troops of firing artillery shells into a hospital deep in rebel territory overnight, killing one infant and wounding 16 people. The military denied the claim.
Fighting has escalated on this Indian Ocean island in recent months with the government intensifying its campaign against the rebels' de facto state in the north, promising to crush them by the end of the year.
The latest clashes broke out on Thursday along the front lines in the Vavuniya and Welioya regions, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.
He said army troops attacked and captured a rebel bunker in Welioya, where separate clashes killed 15 rebels and four soldiers. In nearby Vavuniya district, fighting killed two rebels and wounded two soldiers.
Artillery shells fired by the army hit a hospital overnight killing an 18-month-old baby and wounding 16 people, the rebels said in an e-mailed statement.
Nanayakkara denied the account, accusing the guerrillas of seeking "propaganda mileage."
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment on the military's casualty figures from fighting, which were impossible to verify because reporters are barred from the war zone.
Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own.
The rebels have been fighting for an independent state in the north and east since 1983, following decades of marginalization of ethnic Tamils by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.