The Sri Lankan government admitted on Monday scores of its troops had been killed or injured in fierce fighting with the Tamil Tigers, its biggest reported battlefield loss in months.
The defence ministry said troops had edged closer to the rebels’ northern capital of Kilinochchi but the battles since Saturday had left 33 soldiers dead, three missing in action and 48 injured.
The ministry said the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also suffered heavy casualties, with the bodies of 11 rebels recovered from the battlefield.
“Troops have captured approximately half a square kilometre of land area from the LTTE,” the ministry said, referring to fighting on Sunday.
The main frontlines are currently around 10 to 15 kilometres away from Kilinochchi, according to military officials.
Sri Lanka’s hawkish government — which pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce in January — said several weeks ago its troops were poised to capture Kilinochchi.
It claimed over the weekend that it had breached the final LTTE defence line protecting the town. But army units, despite high morale and a wave of public support, appear to have been held back by dogged rebel resistance and monsoon rains.
Journalists are not allowed access to the front lines but pictures released by the defence ministry on Monday showed vehicles bogged down as troops travelled cross country in muddied jungle terrain.