Sri Lanka military seizes rebel-held territory

Fighting against the Tamil Tigers across the embattled northern region kills 41 people.

sri lanka 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
sri lanka 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sri Lankan soldiers captured some rebel-held territory in the embattled north as heavy fighting across the region killed 41 people, the military said Wednesday. Fighting has escalated around the rebels' de-facto state in the north since last week, when the government officially pulled out of a tattered cease-fire with the Tamil Tiger rebels. Senior government officials have vowed to militarily crush the insurgents. In the latest clash Tuesday night, army troops seized about one square kilometer of territory near the village of Parappakanda in northern Mannar district, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. He said 19 guerrillas and one soldier were killed in the fighting and five soldiers were wounded. Five insurgents died in a separate clash in the same district, he said. In nearby Vavuniya district, soldiers killed 13 guerrillas along the front lines Tuesday, and three more rebels were killed on Jaffna peninsula, Nanayakkara said. Ten soldiers were wounded in the fighting, he said. No immediate comment was available from the rebels. The fighting came hours after a roadside bomb blamed on the rebels killed a government minister near the capital. President Mahinda Rajapaksa condemned the assassination Tuesday as proof of the rebel group's "continued commitment to terror and violence," and hinted the government would strike back. "This sad event is a further reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to rid our country of terrorism and the use of violence to achieve political ends," he said in a statement. Both sides in the fight routinely target the other's leaders. A government air strike in November killed the rebels' political leader, S.P. Tamilselvan, and an attack Sunday killed a top rebel intelligence officer, Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, also known as Col. Charles. The rebels have tried repeatedly to kill senior government and military officials, though the attack Tuesday was their first successful assassination in 19 months. The bomb tore through the car carrying Nation Building Minister D.M. Dassanayake as he traveled through the Ja-Ela area, about 20 kilometers north of the capital, Colombo, said Nanayakkara. The blast also killed another person and wounded 10 others. Dassanayake had been assigned to help coordinate efforts to rebuild Sri Lanka's Eastern Province after government forces drove the rebels from the area in July. Rajapaksa suggested Dassanayake was killed because his work in the east angered the rebels. The rebels have been blamed for a spate of assassination attempts. In November, a suicide bomber killed an aide to Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda in a failed attack on the minister. Bombing attacks in 2006 also failed to kill Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother. The last successful assassination took place in June 2006, when the rebels killed Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, the country's third-ranking military officer. More than 70,000 people have been killed since the rebels began fighting in 1983 for an independent state for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority, claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. A new wave of fighting in the north has killed 118 people - 113 rebels and five soldiers - in the five days since the government's withdrawal from the truce, according to the military.