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In Bloody Siege, Sri Lanka Troops Close In on Rebel Stronghold

September 28, 1996|From Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan soldiers tightened their knot around a northern rebel stronghold Friday in a seven-day siege that has killed 700 people.

The two sides fought their bloodiest battle in two months Thursday when the surrounded rebels struck back. About 450 guerrillas and 75 soldiers died in the battle, the military said in a statement Friday.

The rebels are fighting for a homeland for the Tamils, who make up 18% of Sri Lanka's 17 million people. They accuse the Sinhalese-run government of discrimination, saying Tamils are often refused admission to schools and rejected for jobs in the government, police and army.

But what began as an uprising in 1983 has grown into full-fledged war: More than 39,000 people have died in the fighting.

On Friday, at least 25 rebels were killed in fighting outside the northern Tamil base of Kilinochchi. Four soldiers also died.

Government soldiers and rebels exchanged mortar and machine-gun fire around the town, about 170 miles north of Colombo, as government warplanes continued to bomb rebel positions in the area, officials said.

The military spent much of the day replacing their casualties with fresh troops and stockpiling ammunition.

Government soldiers have been advancing from the northeast and northwest on Kilinochchi, engaging Tamils in battles along the way.

The rebels moved their headquarters to Kilinochchi after the military, in its largest and stiffest offensive of the civil war, captured the rebel headquarters of Jaffna city last December. The troops went on to take the entire Jaffna peninsula.

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