28 Sri Lankan soldiers killed in 3 days of fighting

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Sri Lanka's military has lost 28 soldiers in three days of artillery attacks as it advanced on Tamil Tiger rebel strongholds in northern Sri Lanka.

Three soldiers were also killed in a bomb blast blamed on the rebels, in the northern district of Vavuniya.

The rebels began firing artillery at troops manning defence lines in Muhamalai at the base of the army-controlled Jaffna peninsula on Thursday, prompting a military response, spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.

He said the military was trying to destroy the rebels' artillery positions.

An official of the defence Ministry's Media Center for National Security said troops continued to move yesterday at a slow pace amid heavy artillery from both sides.

Twenty-eight soldiers were killed and 119 wounded in three days of fighting as government ground troops advanced 1,980 feet and captured the rebels' forward line of bunkers, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Rebel official Seevarathnam Puleedevan denied that the Tigers' bunkers had been overrun and said his cadres continued to resist the troops.

He said six rebel cadres have died in the past three days and 13 others wounded.

The fighting came less than a week after the army claimed to have routed Tamil Tigers from Sampur, a rebel-held village in the northeast.

Samarasinghe said Tamil tigers on Sunday set off a roadside bomb killing three soldiers who were on foot patrol in Vavuniya - the northernmost government-held garrison town before the start of rebel-held territory. There was no immediate comment from the rebels.

While neither side has withdrawn from a 2002 cease-fire, weeks of escalating battles along borders separating rebel- and government-held territory in the northeast have left it in tatters.

The Tigers have threatened retaliation and a resumption of war unless the army withdraws from Sampur.