Sri Lanka says sinks 3 rebel boats, 18 dead

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COLOMBO, Sep 28 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's navy sank three Tamil Tiger rebel boats off the island's northeast coast, killing 18 rebels on board, the military said today.

Fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who want a separate homeland for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east, has escalated since the government launched an offensive in the northwest earlier this month.

The latest battle took place late yesterday when the Sri Lankan boats sighted 20 rebel boats in the seas off Pulmudai, near the rebels' de facto state in the far north.

''The navy destroyed three boats and after listening to communications they confirmed 18 Tigers killed including a leader,'' said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanaykkara.

One navy sailor was killed and another injured, he said.

The LTTE were not immediately available for comment.

Around 5,000 people have been killed in fighting between the military and the LTTE guerrillas since early 2006.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the war erupted in 1983.

Reuters KK VP0740

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