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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 08:56 GMT 09:56 UK
Casualties mount in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan armoured vehicle in Jaffna
The army launched an offensive into rebel-held areas
Three days of heavy clashes between Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels have left more than 300 dead.

It is the first major outbreak of fighting between the two sides since the Tigers ended a four-month unilateral ceasefire earlier this week.

Government troops ran into minefields and fell prey to accurate artillery and mortar fire by Tamil Tigers

Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne
The government launched a major offensive in the northern Jaffna peninsula on Tuesday morning, backed by armoured cars, air force jets and navy gun boats.

The military says it has lost 126 soldiers and placed rebel losses at 180 with more than 600 wounded on both sides.

But the Tamil Tigers say they have killed 300 soldiers and wounded 1,200, while only 33 of their own fighters have died.

Military spokesman Sanath Karunaratne said the government forces had suffered huge casualties because they had been confronted by stiff resistance.

"Troops... ran into minefields and fell prey to accurate artillery and mortar fire by Tamil Tigers," he said.

Blow to peace

Most of the fighting is taking place around Elephant Pass, the isthmus which leads into the Jaffna peninsula and which fell to the rebels a year ago.

Sri Lanka map
The high casualty figures are in part due to the fact that the fighting is taking place along a narrow strip of land, leaving the combatants vulnerable to mortar and artillery fire.

The BBC's Daniel Lak in Colombo says the aim of the security forces appears to be to consolidate gains made earlier in the year and perhaps to get into a position from where they can challenge rebel-held areas.

Both sides have said they are committed to dialogue but little progress has been made on a Norwegian-backed peace initiative.

Observers now see little hope for negotiations after the latest outbreak in fighting.

Earlier this week, the Tigers announced they would not extend their unilateral truce which had been in place since Christmas Day.

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | South Asia
Fierce fighting in Sri Lanka
23 Apr 01 | South Asia
Tamil Tigers to end truce
20 Apr 01 | South Asia
Tigers suffer sea 'defeat'
16 Apr 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka gets fresh weapons
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