Sri Lanka says raid kills 69 rebels last month

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COLOMBO, Oct 9 (Reuters) An air strike by Sri Lankan warplanes killed 69 Tamil Tiger rebels at a training camp last month, the military said today, the biggest single-day rebel casualties in months of renewed fighting.

An air force spokesman said the raid was carried out on September 25 in the northern Kilinochchi district and the death toll was confirmed by military intelligence.

There was no immediate comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is difficult to get independent confirmation of casualty claims by either side.

The air raid report came as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour began a five-day visit to investigate rights abuses.

Hundreds of people have been killed or abducted in northern and eastern Sri Lanka since last year amid renewed civil war after a four-year lull, rights groups say.

Some abuses have been blamed on state security forces and some on the rebels.

Sri Lanka says the reports are overblown and designed to tarnish its image. It has slammed foreign governments and rights groups for the criticism.

Yesterday, government forces and LTTE rebels clashed in the northern districts of Jaffna and Vavuniya and the northwestern district of Mannar, the latest in a series of near daily battles in recent months.

''The army killed six terrorists in Monday's confrontations,'' said a military spokesman. ''The army killed two terrorists in Jaffna and another four in Mannar. One soldier was also killed in the Vavuniya confrontation.'' The LTTE says it is fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east.

The military has launched an offensive to drive out the rebels from Mannar, after evicting them from jungle terrain they controlled in the east earlier this year.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since civil war erupted on the Indian Ocean island nation in 1983.

REUTERS SG BD1649

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