Sri Lanka: Latest fighting kills 14 rebels

Military has ousts rebels from all strongholds in recent months, cornering them in a 3-mile-long strip along the northeastern coast.

sri lanka rebels 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
sri lanka rebels 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sri Lankan soldiers killed 14 Tamil Tiger rebels in the latest gunbattles in the insurgents' ever-shrinking northern territory, amid growing international pressure to safeguard 50,000 civilians trapped in the war zone. The military has ousted the rebels from all their strongholds in recent months and cornered them in a 3-mile-long (5-kilometer-long) strip along the northeastern coast. But international pressure has grown for a cease-fire to protect 50,000 ethnic Tamil civilians trapped in the area following a UN report that nearly 6,500 civilians have been killed in the last three months. Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said army troops pushed further into the rebels' remaining territory on Friday, triggering gunbattles that killed at least 14 insurgents. He did not provide details of casualties suffered by the government forces. It was not possible to independently verify the military's claim because journalists and independent observers are barred from the conflict zone. The British and French foreign ministers called for a humanitarian truce during a rare visit Wednesday, and Japan's special mediator for the conflict, Yasushi Akashi, was meeting Sri Lanka officials during the weekend to call on the government to safeguard civilians. The government has rejected calls for a cease-fire, saying any pause in the fighting would give the rebels time to regroup. They instead promised on Monday to stop using artillery attacks, airstrikes and other heavy weapons to ensure the safety of the trapped civilians. But health officials and pro-rebel reports say government forces continue to shell the area. According to a government health official in the war zone, more than 100 shells hit the area in an artillery barrage that lasted from Thursday night until Friday morning. One shell hit the top of a coconut tree and exploded, sending shrapnel raining down on civilians below and killing 10, the official said. The official, who said he witnessed the attack, declined to be identified by name because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Nanayakkara denied the army had fired artillery and said the insurgents might be setting off the explosions themselves to implicate the government. Rights groups have also blamed government forces of firing artillery shells into civilians. On Friday, the government air-dropped leaflets appealing to trapped civilians to flee across the front lines, promising to ensure their safety. The government and rights group accuse the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields. The Tamil Tigers, listed as a terrorist group by many Western nations, have been fighting since 1983 for an ethnic Tamil state in the north and east after decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.