Bus bomb attack kills 11 children

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The Independent Online

Sri Lankan soldiers captured a small area of rebel-held territory after pushing across the front lines in the country's embattled north yesterday, triggering battles that left 22 insurgents dead, the military said.

Meanwhile, rebels said a roadside bomb blast in the north killed 18 civilians, including 11 children.

Backed by artillery and mortars, army troops destroyed 10 rebel bunkers and seized territory in the village of Viyattankulam in Mannar district, said a defence ministry official.

The battle lasted about four hours and left ten rebels dead, said the official speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

In nearby Palaikkuli village, troops destroyed six rebel bunkers, killing 12 guerrillas, he said, adding that the military suffered no casualties. A small area of rebel land was also captured in Palaikkuli.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because the fighting took place deep in the northern jungles, where access is restricted. Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls seeking comment on the military's claims.

Both sides often release inflated enemy casualty figures while underreporting their own.

Separately, rebels said in an e-mailed statement that 18 people, including 11 children, traveling in a school bus were killed in a roadside bomb blast in rebel-held territory in Mannar. Rebels blamed government forces for the deaths.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara denied the allegation.

Government troops have opened up four fronts around the Tigers' de facto state in the north, while the air force has targeted the group's leadership in a bid to crush the rebels' decades-old separatist war.

Soldiers have driven deep into rebel territory in recent months and pushed the front lines back from two to 12 miles in different areas, according to the military.

Intense fighting flared further earlier this month when the government announced it was pulling out of a 2002 cease-fire, which had long been ignored by both sides.

More than 700 people have been killed since the cease-fire officially ended, according to the military.