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Battle Between Tamil Rebels, Sri Lankan Army Kills 250, Officials Say

December 06, 1997|Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Heavy fighting between army forces and Tamil Tiger guerrillas in northern Sri Lanka has left more than 250 people dead, military officials and aid workers said Friday.

The guerrillas turned over the bodies of 111 government soldiers to Red Cross field officers after Thursday's battle, said Harasha Gunewardene, a Red Cross spokesman.

An army spokesman, Major Kumara Dewage, could not confirm the figure, but acknowledged the fighting was heavy.

At least 150 Tamil rebels were believed killed, other military officials and Red Cross workers said in the town of Vavuniya. Between 250 and 300 people on both sides were wounded and the rebel camp 125 miles north of Colombo was destroyed, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The rebels claimed to have repulsed the military and killed 300 soldiers. The reports could not be independently confirmed because the Sri Lankan government does not allow journalists into the area.

Residents said the dead and wounded were being evacuated by helicopter from the battle site Friday.

Government troops are trying to capture the last miles of a highway connecting the southern mainland to Jaffna, the rebel stronghold captured by the government two years ago. Rebels control the jungles around the highway, forcing the government to supply Jaffna by sea or air.

The government says more than 700 soldiers and 2,500 rebels have died since the highway campaign began in May, and several hundred more have been wounded.

Tamil rebels have been fighting since 1983 to carve out an independent ethnic homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, a conflict that has killed 50,000 people. The rebels say Tamils are discriminated against in predominately Sinhalese Sri Lanka.

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