Sri Lanka says kills dozens of rebels in clashes

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COLOMBO, Nov 7 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's military said at least 30 Tamil Tigers and six soldiers were killed in fresh fighting today, while the rebels said they had averted a bid to overrun their positions in the far north of the island.

The fighting in the Jaffna peninsula is the latest in almost daily clashes between the two sides, and comes after an air strike last week killed the leader of the Tigers' political wing in a body blow to hopes of ending the two-decade conflict soon.

The military said that fierce fighting had erupted along a heavily defended 'border' that separates government and rebel-held territory in the Jaffna peninsula, and that troops held territory on the rebel side of the line for some time.

''It is estimated that at least 30 Tiger terrorists were killed and a large number of other LTTE cadres were injured in this firefight,'' said a spokesman at the Media Centre for National Security.

''Six valiant soldiers died and another 25 were injured in the clashes.'' Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan, military spokesman for the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), said government forces had attacked rebel bunkers on the Jaffna forward defence line today morning.

''The Sri Lankan military came with the support of heavy artillery, multi-barrel rocket launchers, mortars and back-up fire from helicopters and tanks,'' Ilanthiraiyan said by telephone from rebel-held Kilinochchi.

''It was a wide-range attempt, it's from Kilali to Muhamalai on the A9 highway. The clash lasted about two hours, and they fell back to their original positions with heavy casualties,'' Ilanthiraiyan said, adding that one rebel had been killed.

There were no independent accounts of what had happened.

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

Separately, a report on the Defence Ministry's Web site said security forces, responding to rebel attempts to infiltrate forward defence lines in the northern district of Vavuniya and neighbouring northwestern district of Mannar, had confronted Tiger fighters in five separate incidents in the past 24 hours.

The Web site cited military sources as saying eight rebels had been either killed or seriously wounded in the clashes.

Earlier today, President Mahinda Rajapaksa unveiled his budget for the coming year. Documents showed defence spending at 166.45 billion rupees (1.5 billion dollars), its highest ever.

The Tigers are fighting to create a Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island.

An estimated 5,000 people have been killed since early last year amid near-daily land and sea clashes, ambushes and air strikes. The death toll since the civil war erupted in 1983 stands at about 70,000.

REUTERS PD PK RAI1753

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