Sri Lanka violence claims 25 lives

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COLOMBO, Nov 10 (Reuters) Sri Lankan troops killed 23 Tamil Tiger rebels in clashes in the north of the island in which a soldier also died, a military spokesman said today.

Tamil Tigers were believed to be responsible for a roadside bomb explosion in the south, which killed one civilian and injured another, a government security spokesman said.

A Claymore fragmentation mine, of a type widely used by rebels against the military, exploded in the Yala wildlife park, a popular tourist destination.

The clashes in the northern district of Vavuniya and northwestern district of Mannar yesterday were the latest engagements in a renewed civil war between government forces and Tamil Tiger fighters.

''Troops attacked terrorist bunkers in Vavuniya in two separate places. Intercepted communications said eight terrorists were killed,'' a spokesman at the Defence Ministry's Media Centre for National Security said.

The spokesman added that a further 15 rebels were killed and more than 20 wounded in a series of small arms engagements and artillery and mortar fire in Vavuniya and Mannar districts, while a soldier was also killed in the fighting in Vavuniya.

The Tigers, who want an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east, said the military had exaggerated the figures.

''There is fighting regularly in those areas but the military claim is not correct, they always exaggerate the figures,'' rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan told Reuters by telephone from rebel-held Kilinochchi.

There was no independent confirmation and military analysts say both sides exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

The fighting follows a major battle in the Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday in which the military said they killed 60 rebels.

The Tigers said 20 soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded, while just one of their fighters was killed.

An air strike last week killed the leader of the Tigers' political wing, dealing a blow to hopes of ending the two-decade conflict soon.

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.

Around 5,000 people have been killed in fighting between the military and the guerrillas since early 2006. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the war erupted in 1983.

REUTERS PJ RAI2347

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