Sri Lanka says kills 34 rebels in heavy fighting

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COLOMBO, Oct 18 (Reuters) Sri Lankan troops have killed at least 34 Tamil Tiger rebels over the last two days, the Defence Ministry said today, as heavy fighting in the restive north deepens the island's renewed civil war.

Troops killed at least 14 Tiger fighters trying to infiltrate defence lines separating government from rebel-held territory in the far north today, a day after troops killed at least 20 rebels in other clashes, the government said.

In a separate incident at sea off the northwestern district of Mannar, three people were killed in a clash between the Navy and the rebels' naval wing, but it was not clear whether the dead were guerrillas or civilians, the military said.

''Troops manning the Wanni Forward Defence Line engaged two groups of LTTE infiltrators , killing at least 14 LTTE cadres today,'' the Defence Ministry said on its Web site.

It said six soldiers were wounded.

The Wanni is a large swathe of territory in the north which spans both rebel and government-held terrain.

On Wednesday, troops fought a series of clashes, exchanging heavy artillery and mortar fire, around the town of Omanthai, the main crossing point between government and rebel territory in the north, the military said.

It said those clashes occurred on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) side of defence lines in the far north, where the civil war is now focused as the government seeks to wrest control of the rebels' de facto state.

The Tigers had no immediate comment on the fighting and there were no independent accounts of what had happened or how many people had been killed. Military analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

NAVAL SKIRMISH The Navy said it intercepted three suspected Sea Tiger vessels off the town of Pesalai in Mannar before dawn. Three people were killed in the ensuing firefight.

''We don't know who (killed them) because we fired, but also the LTTE fired. We don't know whose bullets hit them. Both the LTTE and us use the same calibre and same Chinese weapons,'' said Navy spokesman Commander D K P Dassanayaka.

Four survivors aboard the boat included two wounded children, who were admitted to Mannar hospital, officials said.

Pro-rebel Web site www.tamilnet.com said those killed were refugees trying to flee to neighbouring India. The Navy said the boat had been travelling in the opposite direction, towards the southeast.

An estimated 5,000 people have been killed since early last year in near daily land and sea clashes, ambushes and air strikes, taking the death toll since the conflict erupted in 1983 to around 70,000.

While the government has had the upper hand in recent months, capturing swathes of rebel-held territory in the east, analysts say there is no clear winner on the horizon and fear the conflict could grind on for years.

REUTERS RSA BST0017

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