Sri Lanka kills 7 rebels, hold leader's funeral

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COLOMBO, Nov 5 (Reuters) Seven Tamil Tigers and a soldier were killed following fresh fighting in northern Sri Lanka, the military said today, as the Tamil Tigers held the funeral of the rebels' political wing chief.

Clashes between the two sides continue unabated in the north of the country. The Indian Ocean island remains on a high security alert after SP Thamilselvan was killed in a bombing raid by the Sri Lankan air force on Friday.

The latest fighting was reported from the northern districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna, a military spokesman said.

The military said security forces closed the only entry and exit point to rebel-held territory in Vavuniya following a rebel artillery attack.

''Troops attacked a group of terrorists who tried to attack the forward defence line in Nagarkovil in Jaffna and killed four terrorists,'' spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Three rebels and a soldier were killed in an earlier confrontation on Sunday in Vavuniya, the military said.

The civil war has killed about 5,000 people since early last year and around 70,000 since 1983. Analysts say the killing of Thamilselvan has hurt the chances of the conflict ending soon.

A pro-rebel Tamil Website, www.sankathi.net, published a picture of rebels carrying the wooden coffin of the Tamil Tiger leader, while schoolchildren dressed in white looked on.

The Web site said more than 25,000 people took part in the funeral procession for Thamilselvan, political head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), despite the air force bombers circling overhead.

The main pro-rebel Website, Tamilnet, showed pictures of Thamilselvan's widow paying her last respects, dressed in a tiger-striped rebel uniform.

Thamilselvan, who led the rebel delegation at the last round of peace talks with the government in late 2006, was the most senior Tiger leader to be killed by troops in years.

Sri Lankan authorities expect the rebels to retaliate and have stepped up security in the capital, Colombo, erecting new road blocks, deploying extra patrols and asking people to be watchful for any suspicious activity.

The government justified the killing and said it would continue to attack the rebels.

''He is a terrorist and no question of it, the government justifies the action that was taken by the air force.'' said Defence Ministry spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.

While the military has had the upper hand in recent months and evicted the rebels from their eastern stronghold, the Tigers and their suicide fighter wing can still mount daring attacks.

Analysts see no clear winner on the horizon and say the conflict could rumble on for years.

REUTERS NC KP2058

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