Seventeen Tamil rebels killed in clashes
Scattered fighting across northern Sri Lanka killed 17 Tamil Tiger rebels, the military said Saturday.
The clashes Friday came as suspected rebels fired at a passenger bus in southern Sri Lanka, killing a 9-year-old boy and three women.
The fighting broke out in the Mannar, Vavuniya and Welioya regions surrounding the rebels' northern stronghold, the military said in a statement. It said no soldiers were killed but some were wounded.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment and it was not possible to verify the military's claims because reporters are barred from the war zone. Each is side known to exaggerate casualties inflicted on the other and underreport their own.
On Friday a group of gunmen hiding by the side of the road near the southern village of Buttala shot at a passing civilian bus, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. The bus driver sped through the ambush, only stopping when he reached safety, Nanayakkara said.
He blamed the rebels for the attack, which he said killed a boy and three women and wounded 25 others. The rebels did not comment on the attack.
The Tamil Tigers have been blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians and are listed as a terror group by the United States, European Union and India.
The rebels were blamed for a strike in Buttala on Jan. 16 in which assailants bombed a bus, gunned down the fleeing passengers and attacked nearby farmers as they retreated into the forest, killing 32 people.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The government has stepped up fighting around the rebels' de facto state in the north in an effort to deliver on its promise to crush the group by the end of this year.
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