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'Many dead' in Sri Lanka battles

Sri Lankan soldiers
The army says that it is is continuing to advance

There are reports of heavy casualties after fierce clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels in northern Sri Lanka.

Both sides say they killed scores of each other's fighters. On Wednesday the military said it had launched a series of airstrikes against rebel positions.

Fighting has gone on for weeks around the key rebel-held town of Kilinochchi.

Independent reporters are banned from the war zone and it is impossible to confirm either side's claims.

Each is accused of routinely understating their own casualties while overstating those of the other.

The Sri Lankan army says that it killed 120 rebels and wounded 250 around the town of Kilinochchi on Tuesday. It says that 25 of its troops were killed and 10 are missing.

'Captured' Sri Lankan army weaponry
The rebels say they have captured arms and ammunition

On Wednesday the defence ministry said that fighter jets and helicopter gunships straffed rebel positions around Kilinochchi. It says that "more and more Tiger fortifications and hideouts have been eliminated".

The pro-rebel TamilNet website says that 130 soldiers were killed during a "multi-front offensive" by the army around Kilinochchi.

It said that more than 300 soldiers were wounded in a "heavy battle that raged throughout the day". It did not give details of rebel casualties.

A spokesman for the rebels on Tuesday told the BBC that the army's offensive in the north of the country had been met with "fierce resistance".

The spokesman, S Puleedevan, said the army offensive had received a "severe blow" around Kilinochchi and that about 40 soldiers had been killed and 100 wounded in the latest fighting.

The rebels later claimed they had killed 130 government soldiers and wounded more than 300.

The rebels say that troops were forced to withdraw after nine hours of heavy fighting and that they recovered various weapons from the bodies of the dead soldiers.

The government denied the claims.

The Sri Lankan army also said on Tuesday that it had gained control over a 5km (three-mile) area of rebel trenches west of Kilinochchi - their administrative and political headquarters which in recent weeks has been under siege from the army.

"Troops are now consolidating defences in the area," military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The army said that heavy fighting on the outskirts of Kilinochchi and other rebel-held areas of the north began early on Tuesday morning with artillery and heavy mortar attacks at "identified terror locations".

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