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Sunday, June 27, 1999 Published at 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK

World: South Asia

Fighting intensifies in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka says its troops are advancing in the north-west

There have been heavy casualties in Sri Lanka after the latest fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for independence.

The Defence Ministry says its forces have advanced against Tamil Tiger separatists in the north-west of the country capturing an area of some 60 sq km.

There have been conflicting casualty figures with a military spokesman saying 16 soldiers and at least 71 guerrillas were killed in the latest fighting that began on Saturday afternoon and involved mortar and artillery fire.

A government tank was destroyed by rebel fire while the Defence Ministry says it captured 30 automatic weapons and ammunition from rebels killed in close range fighting.

The Tamil Tigers say they lost 22 fighters and that more than 100 government troops were killed.

They said another 200 soldiers were wounded.

Heavy losses

The government says the fighting in the area has now died down.

Both sides have suffered heavy losses since May when the army began an offensive into rebel held areas in northern Sri Lanka.

This offensive follows the failure of the government last year to capture a key highway that links the northern peninsula of Jaffna with the rest of the island.

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