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Sri Lanka army 'seizes key area'

Sri Lankan soldiers in a handout photo from the ministry of defence
Troops closing in on Kilinochchi have faced resistance for months

Sri Lanka's military says it has seized a strategically important junction in the north from Tamil Tiger rebels.

The military said at least 50 Tamil fighters were killed in the battle for Paranthan, a crossroads north of the Tigers' headquarters in Kilinochchi.

The military said its success at Paranthan had effectively cut the main supply line to several Tiger strongholds in the north of Sri Lanka.

The rebels said this week they were successfully defending Kilinochchi.

Troops fighting their way towards the town have faced determined resistance for months, but the army says the it is now on the verge of falling.

Both sides have recently claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other in the north of the island.

Concerted assault

The fighting for Paranthan was bitter and lasted for hours, according to a statement by Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence.

Soldiers entered the small township in a concerted assault, said the Ministry of Defence, but the Tamil Tigers launched a series of counter attacks.

There were fierce battles with Government troops supported by fighter jets, helicopter gunships, artillery and mortar fire before the rebels withdrew in disarray, the ministry said in a statement.

The rebels, who have fought for a generation for a separate state for the ethnic Tamil minority, have not commented directly on the military claims about Paranthan.

But they said four civilians had been killed and 18 wounded by government air raids in the area they control.

There have been no independent reports of the latest fighting from the frontlines and it is impossible to verify either account of casualties.

Correspondents say that while the government remains on track to win the war, heavy battles are likely still to lie ahead and there is concern about the fate of the large number of civilians in the Tiger-controlled north.

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

Kilinochchi remains a hugely symbolic target because it is where the Tigers have established their administrative headquarters, says the BBC's Roland Buerk in Sri Lanka.

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