Sri Lanka says 17 rebels killed in fighting

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COLOMBO, Nov 12 (Reuters) Sri Lankan troops killed 17 Tamil Tiger rebels in clashes in the north of the island, the military said today, as renewed civil war escalates.

The engagements, in the northern Jaffna peninsula today and northern district of Vavuniya and eastern district of Ampara on Sunday, were the latest in intensified fighting between government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

''The ground troops confirmed they killed five terrorists including a regional leader when the military attacked three bunkers of terrorists in Muhamalai in Jaffna today morning,'' a spokesman at the Media centre for National security said, adding one soldier was also injured from the fighting.

''Troops retaliated to terrorist mortar fire in Vavuniya and the intercepted LTTE communications confirmed three terrorists were killed,'' the spokesman said.

The military also said that in the eastern district of Ampara elite police commandos killed three members of a group of Tamil Tiger rebels who tried to lob a hand grenade at them.

The military added that six bodies of female Tamil Tiger rebels were found in a search operation in Vavuniya following a government attack on a rebel bunker.

The Tigers, who say they are fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east, were not immediately available for comment.

There was no independent confirmation of how many people died in the fighting or what happened. Military analysts say both sides tend to 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 it killed 60 rebels. The Tigers said 20 soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded in the clash, while just one of their fighters died.

An air strike on Nov 2 killed the leader of the Tigers' political wing in a body blow to hopes of ending the two-decade conflict soon.

The military has launched an offensive to drive the rebels from Mannar, after evicting them earlier this year from jungle terrain they controlled in the east.

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

Reuters PD DB1840

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