Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Heavy fighting in north Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan soldiers in a handout photo from the ministry of defence
The army and rebels have been fighting for weeks

Dozens of Sri Lankan soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed in the latest heavy fighting in the north of the country, the two sides say.

The rebels say they beat back an army attack against the town of Kilinochchi, killing at least 100 troops.

The army, on the other hand, says that it only lost 10 soldiers, and that more than 50 rebels died.

There have been no independent reports from the frontlines, and it is impossible to verify either account.

There has been fierce fighting in recent months as the army closes in on Kilinochchi.

It has claimed a number of times that it was about to capture the town.


The rebels insist they can defend the town and the head of the Tamil Tigers' political wing, Balasingham Nadesan, told the BBC by e-mail that even if it falls, they will fight on.

"Freedom... never depends on one city. We can create more communities, more cities and [in] our freedom struggle, we are supported by people."

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says Kilinochchi is a hugely symbolic target of the government's offensive to crush the rebels.

In the town, the Tigers - or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - have assembled the trappings of the independent state they want for the ethnic Tamil minority, including political offices, courts and a police force.

A military spokesman said the people of Sri Lanka wanted the LTTE to be eliminated.

"The military also wanted the same thing and they are doing their level best to capture the rest of the areas" under Tamil Tiger control, said Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

Sri Lanka's government says it is on track to win the war but heavy battles are likely to still lie ahead and there is concern about the fate of the large number of civilians in the Tiger-controlled north, our correspondent says.

The rebels deny using them as human shields and reject allegations they are forcing people into their ranks to fight.


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