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Page last updated at 07:32 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 08:32 UK

Disputed claims on S Lanka clash

A Sri Lankan soldier patrols along the front line in the Muhamalai area (6 April 2008)
The Sri Lankan military has been trying to crush the Tigers

Fighting between Sri Lanka's military and Tamil Tiger rebels in the northern Jaffna peninsula has ended with both sides claiming victory.

The military said 43 soldiers died and 33 were still missing, but insisted the offensive was a success.

More than 100 rebels were also killed in fighting which ended after 11 hours on Wednesday, the military said.

The rebels put their losses at 16. They said they had killed more than 100 soldiers and wounded about 500.

Journalists are denied access to the area and it is impossible to verify the conflicting claims independently.

Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka for a quarter of a century.

Questioned

"Over 100 Tamil Tigers, including 15 senior terrorists and 43 soldiers were killed in fierce fighting that lasted for 11 hours between the Sri Lanka Army and the rebels in the narrow and open land stretches at Muhamalai and Kilaly [Jaffna] on Wednesday," the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence website said.

It said 120 soldiers had been wounded in the fighting and those with serious injuries had been air lifted to hospitals in Colombo.

The report said 33 soldiers were missing and search operations were continuing.

Map

The defence ministry said their information was based on intercepted radio communications.

But the rebels questioned the government claim saying they beat back a major offensive.

"Clearing operations are underway," news agency AFP reported Tamil Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan as saying.

The rebels said they were planning to return the bodies of 30 troops they had captured after the battle.

There is no independent verification of the conflicting accounts. Both sides often exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.

The BBC's Colombo correspondent Roland Buerk says Wednesday's clashes are by far the heaviest since Sri Lanka's government pulled out of a ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers in January.

Sri Lanka's military has been trying to crush the Tigers in the territory they hold in the north since completing an operation to drive them from the East last July, he says.

Senior military and government figures predicted swift victory.

But, our correspondent says, the rebels' forces are more concentrated in the north than they were in the east, and some in Sri Lanka are speculating that resistance is stiffer than had been expected.

The Tigers have fought for a generation for an independent state for the Tamil minority.

At least 70,000 people have died since the civil war began in 1983.


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