Sri Lankan rebels push army south in heavy fighting

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tamil rebels overran front-line military camps in northern Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing and wounding hundreds of soldiers and stranding others in the surrounding jungle, an army official said.

Tamil rebels overran front-line military camps in northern Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing and wounding hundreds of soldiers and stranding others in the surrounding jungle, an army official said.

The rebels appeared to be driving the army south a day storming the town of Oddusudan, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the capital, Colombo. More than 150 soldiers were killed, the worst slaughter in more than a year.

Breaches of the government's northern line were reported in several towns near Oddusudan on Wednesday. Rebels had taken control of one town, and were pounding another with mortar shells, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, could not say exactly how many soldiers were killed, but said about 600 men were either dead, wounded, or missing in action deep in the Wanni jungle.

State news media played down the fighting, and the military's spokesman, Brigadier Sunil Tennakoon, denied any knowledge of the latest losses.

Families, who had not heard from their sons, went to military camps to find out what had happened, a navy official said, also on condition of anonymity.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels have been fighting for an independent state for the minority Tamils since 1983 in a conflict that has left more than 58,000 dead. The rebels control large swathes of land in the north and east, and the army conducts intermittent campaigns to drive them back.

The military official said the army had suffered a serious setback after the latest fighting, which wiped out territorial gains made in the past 10 months.

The last time the government sustained such heavy casualties was in September 1998, when more than 1,000 soldiers were killed in fighting over a strategic highway.

Last week, the government launched an operation near Oddusudan to drive rebels from the area. Army officials earlier reported more than 80 rebels killed, but the insurgents have since carried out a heavier counterattack, and the army's assault may have backfired.

Journalists are not allowed near the war zone except on army-led tours, and there was no independent confirmation of the latest reports.

Comments