Sri Lankan rebels said Wednesday they had repelled a coordinated government offensive into rebel-held territory, killing 130 government soldiers and wounding hundreds of other troops. The government denied the claims.
The fighting came as Sri Lankan forces pushed ahead with a monthslong offensive against the Tamil Tigers' northern stronghold in the face of punishing seasonal rains and stiff rebel resistance. The latest battles erupted Tuesday when government forces launched attacks on rebel positions in at least four sites in the Kilinochchi district and along the front lines in the Jaffna peninsula, the rebel-linked Web site TamilNet reported, citing Tamil Tiger officials.
The rebels said they forced the troops to retreat after nine hours of fighting, killing 130 soldiers and wounding more than 300 others. The rebels said they recovered the bodies of at least 10 soldiers in Kilinochchi and eight more in Jaffna, with many other bodies trapped in no man's land. The Tamil Tigers did not give details of their own casualties.
Military officials were not immediately available for comment, but the government said Tuesday that 120 rebels and 25 soldiers were killed in the battles, and 10 other soldiers were missing. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties while underreporting their own. Journalists and independent observers are barred from the war zone, making it impossible to verify battlefield reports released by either side.
The government has vowed to crush the separatists and has won a string of victories in recent months. It has seized large chunks of rebel-held territory, forcing the insurgents into a dwindling stronghold in the northeast corner of this Indian Ocean island nation.
However, the rebels have offered stiff resistance for nearly two months at the edge of Kilinochchi, the administrative capital of their de facto state, despite repeated government predictions of the town's "imminent fall."
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.