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Soldiers attack rebels, 40 killed

Sri Lankan soldiers launched an attack on Tamil separatists in the embattled north, killing 15 rebels, while other battles left 24 rebels and 1 soldier dead.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2008 12:47 IST

Sri Lankan soldiers launched a pre-dawn attack on Tamil separatists in the embattled north on Sunday, killing 15 rebels, while other battles in the region left 24 rebels and one soldier dead, said the military.

The civil war on the Indian Ocean island has escalated in recent months, with the military stepping up ground assaults and airstrikes after the government pledged to capture rebel-held territory and crush the insurgents.

In the latest offensive, army troops pushed into the rebel territory across a defense line in the village of Kilali on the Jaffna peninsula early on Sunday and attacked rebel bunkers, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.

He said soldiers killed 15 guerrillas before retreating to their bunkers, without suffering casualties.

Fighting, meanwhile, continued throughout Saturday along the front lines in Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Welioya regions bordering the rebels' de fact state, Nanayakkara said. Scattered battles in Vavuniya killed 16 rebels and one soldier while three rebels died in Mullaitivu. Separate clashes killed five insurgents in Welioya and Jaffna.

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 journalists are barred from the war zone. 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. The fighting has escalated in recent months after the government vowed to crush the rebels by the end of the year. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.