Sri Lanka clashes kill over 20 rebels, 1 soldier

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COLOMBO, Sep 24 (Reuters) More than 20 Tamil Tiger rebels and one soldier were killed in clashes in northern Sri Lanka today, the military said, the latest in a rash of confrontations amid renewed civil war.

The military said intercepted radio communications revealed about 20 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels were killed in the Jaffna clash, up from an initial estimate of three. However troops had recovered only two bodies.

''Monitoring (of communications) confirmed about 20 terrorists were killed,'' said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara. ''They were (attacking) the forward defence line there in Kilali. We went ahead and attacked. One soldier was killed and five were wounded.'' The Tigers, who say they are fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east, said 10 of their fighters were killed -- four in Jaffna and six in a separate clash in the northwestern district of Mannar.

''A sizeable battle unit of the Sri Lankan armed forces advanced with a high pitched support of artillery, multi-barrel rocket launchers and mortars towards the LTTE forward defence line (in) ... Mannar,'' Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said in an email.

''The LTTE front-liners confirm a heavy toll on the Sri Lankan armed forces in this confrontation,'' he added, saying rebel fighters had sighted military helicopters evacuating wounded troops from the area.

There was no independent confirmation of how many people were killed or what had happened. Military analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

Around 5,000 people have been killed in fighting between the military and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam guerrillas since early 2006. In all, nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the war erupted in 1983.

Reuters KK VP0018

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