Sri Lanka kills 7 rebels ahead of leader's funeral

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COLOMBO, Nov 5 (Reuters) Seven Tamil Tigers and a soldier were killed in fresh fighting in northern Sri Lanka, the military said today, hours before the funeral of the rebels' political wing chief.

Clashes between the two sides continue unabated in the north of the country. The Indian Ocean island remains on a high security alert after S P Thamilselvan was killed in a bombing raid by the Sri Lankan air force on Friday.

The latest fighting was reported from the northern districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna, a military spokesman said.

''Troops attacked a group of terrorists who tried to attack the forward defence line in Nagarkovil in Jaffna and killed four terrorists,'' spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Three rebels and a soldier were killed in an earlier confrontation yesterday in Vavuniya, the military said.

The civil war has killed about 5,000 people since early last year and around 70,000 people since 1983 and analysts say the killing of Thamilselvan had hurt the chances of the conflict ending soon.

A pro-rebel Tamil Web site published a picture of rebels carrying the wooden coffin of the Tamil Tiger leader, while school children dressed in white looked on.

Thamilselvan, who led the rebel delegation at the last round of peace talks with the government in late 2006, was the most senior Tamil Tiger leader to be killed by troops in years.

Sri Lankan authorities expect the rebels to retaliate and have stepped up security in the capital Colombo, erecting new road blocks, deploying extra patrols and asking people to be vigilant about any suspicious activity.

While the military has had the upper hand in recent months and evicted the rebels from their eastern stronghold, the Tigers and their suicide fighter wing are still able to mount daring attacks.

Analysts see no clear winner on the horizon and say the conflict could rumble on for years.

Reuters PD GC1902

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