85 combatants killed as clashes continue in N Lanka

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Colombo, Jan 12 (UNI) At least 85 combatants, including 66 LTTE cadres, were killed when fierce clashes broke out between the advancing government troops and the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north-western Mannar and northern Jaffna districts, according to claims by both parties.

''Reports from Wanni and Jaffna battle fronts indicate that at least 66 terrorists were killed and many others were injured as Sri Lankan Army soldiers continued to attack LTTE defences in the region on January 11,'' the Defence Ministry claimed.

It also claimed that only one government soldier was killed and 28 others were wounded during the clashes that prevailed throughout today on the Vavuniya, Mannar and Muhamalai battlefronts.

Fighting erupted at the forward defences at Mahamalai, Nagarkovil and Kilali in the northern Jaffna peninsula when the advancing government troops were confronted by the rebels this evening and the government troops were able to destroy a couple of forward bunker lines of the rebels, the ministry said.

According to the Defence Ministry, in the Wanni theatre of battle, heavy clashes continued today at the Vavuniya, Mannar and Welioya battle fronts, leaving heavy casualties among the LTTE cadres.

Meanwhile, the pro-LTTE puthinam.com website said in a report that the fighting units of the rebels mounted a fierce counter attack when government troops backed heavy artillery, mortar bombardment and tried a multi-pronged advancement into the rebel-held areas in the Mannar district.

It claimed that the efforts by the troops were foiled, killing 19 soldiers today.

According to the website, seven LTTE cadres were also killed during these clashes.

Independent verification of the death toll is not possible as journalists are barred from visiting the battle front.

It is against this background that Japanese special peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, is due to arrive in the country tomorrow for two-day talks with the government leaders.

''He will discuss with the government the current situation of the peace process and its future,'' the Japanese embassy here said in a statement.

Japan, the single largest aid donor to Sri Lanka, has voiced deep concern about the decision by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government last week to end February 2002 truce deal with Tamil Tiger rebels, expressing fears that the move ''would not only further stall the peace process but also worsen the conflict.'' UNI XC SKB VC1937

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