Scattered battles across northern Sri Lanka killed 15 Tamil Tiger rebels and four government soldiers, the military said on Wednesday.
The fighting erupted on Tuesday when army troops attacked rebel fighters across the front lines in the Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Welioya regions that surround the rebels' de facto state in the north, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman. In the worst fighting, soldiers killed nine rebels in clashes in Vavuniya, while a confrontation in Mullaitivu killed two rebels and one soldier, he said.
Battles in Welioya killed three rebels and a soldier, while two soldiers were killed in a booby trap explosion in Mannar. Fighting on the Jaffna front killed one rebel, while rebel mortar fire wounded three soldiers, said Nanayakkara.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not available for comment. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because most journalists are barred from the war zone. Fighting has escalated in this island nation in recent months, with government forces stepping up ground assaults and airstrikes on rebel-held territory, pledging to crush the insurgency by the end of this year. The military has captured several key rebel bases in recent weeks.
The Tamil Tigers 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.