Sri Lanka says 15 rebels die in fighting

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COLOMBO, Oct 28 (Reuters) Sri Lankan troops killed 15 Tamil Tiger rebels and three soldiers died in clashes in the north, the military said today, as stepped-up fighting continued in the latest chapter of a long-running civil war.

Troops fought four separate battles with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the northern district of Vavuniya yesterday, and another on the Jaffna peninsula today, days after the rebels mounted their biggest-ever suicide operation by land backed by air strikes.

''The troops confronted and killed four terrorists in Muhamale in Jaffna this morning,'' said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, adding one soldier was also killed in Jaffna fighting.

Officials said 11 LTTE rebels were killed and others wounded in four different attacks in Vavuniya yesterday.

adding a soldier was also killed in the fighting.

The military said that in another confrontation in the northern aria of Welioya a soldier was killed while an intercepted rebel communication confirmed a rebel was wounded.

The Tigers were not immediately available for comment on the fighting and there were no independent accounts of what had happened or how many people were killed.

Military analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

The latest fighting in the north, where a new chapter of a two decade civil war is focused after troops drove the Tigers from bastions in the east of the island, comes after the military said dozens of Tigers were killed in heavy clashes in the region last week.

An estimated 5,000 people have been killed since early last year amid 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, analysts say there is no clear winner on the horizon and fear the conflict could rumble on for years.

Counter-terrorism experts say there is no military solution to the protracted war, and the only hope is a long-elusive political settlement.

REUTERS SKB VC1355

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