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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Sri Lanka dead handed over
Soldier firing RTG
The army was hoping to push back Tamil rebels
The Sri Lankan Government has handed over to the Red Cross the bodies of 36 Tamil Tiger separatists killed in two days of heavy fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

"We have taken 36 bodies today to be given over to the LTTE (Tamil Tigers)," Red Cross spokesman Harsha Gunawardena said.

Sri Lankan army artillery
The fighting was the heaviest for months
The military authorities said they had more bodies, but they could not be returned as they were too badly mutilated.

It was not clear if there would be a reciprocal gesture from the rebels.

Reports on Wednesday said that government forces had launched fresh ground and sea attacks on Tiger positions in the north of the country.

However, there were no details of casualties in the latest fighting.

The government offensive began on Sunday when thousands of troops - backed by aircraft cover - moved into Tamil Tiger-held territories of east of Jaffna town.

New weaponry

The army said it had lost 114 soldiers, and claimed that more than 200 Tamil rebels had been killed in the offensive.

The Tamil Tigers said they had killed more than 100 soldiers, but did not mention their own casualties.

The Sri Lankan Army said it had used new weaponry in the latest clashes, including multi-barrelled rocket launchers and MiG-27 aircraft.

However, the BBC's Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo says the military now acknowledges that the Tamil Tigers adopted special tactics to avoid the increased firepower.

He says they are using small groups armed with mortars to get close to government positions, which helps explain why the government push faltered after less than 24 hours.

Significant timing

The offensive comes just a month before Sri Lanka votes for a new parliament.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga
President Kumaratunga vowed to end the war when first elected
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has often said that the Tamil rebels must be defeated militarily before any negotiations can take place.

It is believed that if President Kumaratunga is successful against the rebels, her party may benefit in the general elections.

In April, the rebels captured Elephant Pass - the only land route to the Jaffna Peninsula.

The government has been under pressure to gain ground in the war since then.

President Kumaratunga's critics say this offensive is partly to boost her prospects in polls.

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka 'needs more troops'
01 Jun 00 | South Asia
New weapons boost Sri Lankan army
22 Aug 00 | South Asia
Fears of violence in Sri Lanka
18 Aug 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka sets election date
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