Sri Lanka says kills, wounds dozens of rebels

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COLOMBO, Sep 25 (Reuters) Sri Lankan troops killed and wounded dozens of Tamil Tiger rebels in a series of battles in the far north, the military said today, the latest clashes in a quickening of the two-decade civil war.

Nine Tamil Tiger rebels were killed and 36 wounded in one battle in the northwestern district of Mannar yesterday, after at least 10 Tiger rebels and possibly more than 20 were killed in two other clashes in the north the same day.

In a separate incident early today, two civilians were killed in a suspected rebel roadside bomb attack in the army-held northern Jaffna peninsula, the Defence Ministry said.

''The army confronted a group of Tamil Tiger cadres. They were firing artillery at civilians. The confrontation killed nine LTTE cadres,'' military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said, reporting one of the clashes a day after the fact.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who say they are fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east, said yesterday 10 of their fighters were killed in two separate clashes. The military put the rebel death toll at more than 20.

However, rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said he had no immediate details of the other confrontation referred to by Nanayakkara.

There was no independent confirmation of how many people were killed in the fighting or what had happened. Military analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

TIGERS ISOLATED The Tigers, widely outlawed as a terrorist group, say they have been isolated from the international community since a 2002 ceasefire pact broke down early last year, and called on foreign governments to support the idea of sovereignty for Tamils and to give them a forum to voice their views.

Their appeal came hours before President Mahinda Rajapaksa was due to address the UN General Assembly in New York.

''The Government of Sri Lanka must end its deceptions, halt its military oppression, ethnic cleansing and serious human rights violations,'' the Tigers said in a statement issued overnight.

''(It must) accept the aspirations of the Tamil people and come forward to find a resolution that is based on the right to self-determination of the Tamil people,'' the statement added.

''The international community must rein in the government of Sri Lanka to bring it in line.'' The government has repeatedly offered to hold peace talks with the Tigers, but has also vowed to wipe out their military capability and has launched repeated offensives into rebel-held territory - which military analysts say sets the stage for more war.

Around 5,000 people have been killed in fighting between the military and LTTE guerrillas since early 2006. Fighting is now focused on the north after troops this year drove the Tigers from eastern areas they controlled under the terms of a now-tattered ceasefire pact.

In all, nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the war erupted in 1983, and few see a clear winner on the horizon.

REUTERS ARB DS1355

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