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Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 10:19 UK

Fierce clashes in north Sri Lanka

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan military
The army has restricted rebels to a small area of jungle in the north-east

More than 50 Tamil rebels have been killed in land and sea battles in Sri Lanka's north-east, the military says.

At least 26 rebels and a sailor were killed when navy vessels confronted a group of rebel boats off the coast of Mullaitivu, a navy spokesman said.

In a separate land battle, the military said at least 29 Tigers were killed. The rebels are yet to comment.

The military has been making steady progress in its fight against the rebels in recent months.

The government says it has now restricted the rebels to an area of less than 25 sq km.

But pro-rebel websites say that the guerrillas have been offering stiff resistance to the army's offensive.

There is no independent confirmation of the events as journalists cannot report from the conflict zone.

'Pitched battles'

There have been intense sea and land clashes between Sri Lankan security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in the north-east.

In the first incident, Sri Lankan navy spokesman Commander Mahesh Karunarathne told the BBC that naval vessels fought pitched battles with Tamil Tiger boats in two different places off the coast of Mullaitivu.

"Our Special Boat Squadron and Rapid Boat Squadron directed heavy gunfire at the rebel boats. Altogether, four Tiger boats were sunk," he said.

One sailor was killed and three others sustained injuries in the battles, he said.

The navy spokesman said that a senior Tamil Tiger leader called Maran was among those killed.

In a separate land battle, the military said at least 29 rebels were killed in the fighting with security forces.

It said the Tamil Tigers were killed when they attempted to break a security force defence line in the Palamattalan area.

"We have recovered 15 bodies of the rebels killed in the battles so far," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

"We also suffered casualties but the number was minimal," he said.

Brig Nanayakkara said some of their army units were a mere 400 metres from the safe zone.

There has been no reaction from the Tamil Tigers to the military's claims but pro-rebel websites said the rebels were offering stiff resistance in the area.

The escalation in fighting comes amid increasing international concern over the condition of tens of thousands of civilians caught up in the war zone.

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