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Tamil Tigers 'killed in fighting'

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The Sri Lankan defence ministry says at least 24 Tamil Tiger rebels have died in fighting in the north of the island.

Clashes took place in the Vavuniya and Welioya regions. One soldier was also killed, the ministry said.

The clashes come as foreign ministers from eight South Asian countries are meeting in the capital, Colombo, for the regional Saarc conference.

There has been no comment yet from the rebels who are fighting for a separate state for the island's Tamil minority.

Both sides regularly claim they have inflicted heavy casualties on the other side.

It is impossible to verify the claims and counter-claims since the area is inaccessible to journalists and aid groups.

Air strike

A release by the defence ministry said 16 rebels were killed in heavy clashes in Vavuniya, while the remaining eight were killed in fighting in Welioya.

The clashes took place on Wednesday, hours after the air force said its jets had bombed a Tiger training facility in the Iranamadu area, near Kilinochchi.

An air force spokesman said the facility was destroyed in the raid.

A pro-rebel website TamilNet confirmed the attack and said many houses were damaged in the air raid.

Earlier in the month, Tamil Tiger rebels announced a 10-day truce for the duration of the Saarc summit.

They said they would offer a ceasefire from 26 July to 4 August when Colombo hosts the summit as a gesture of goodwill to other countries which are participating.

The government rejected the offer, saying a truce would give the rebels an opportunity to regroup.

Sri Lanka's civil war has claimed some 70,000 lives since 1983.


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