22 Sep 2008

Army advances on Tamil Tigers' headquarters

8:07 pm on 22 September 2008

Sri Lanka's military battled towards the Tamil Tigers' headquarters in the north of the island and killed 59 killed insurgents, the military said on Monday.

Eight soldiers also died in Sunday's fighting, which followed two days of clashes last week that were among the bloodiest since the military strengthened its advance against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam three months ago.

"Troops killed 59 (Tigers) and 31 were wounded from Sunday's fighting," a military spokesperson said. "Eight soldiers also died and 28 were wounded from the fighting."

The rebels could not be reached for comment, and independently verifying the figures is difficult because the military bars most journalists from the battle zones. Both sides routinely inflate losses and victories to their advantage.

The air force also kept up a series of air strikes with attack helicopters and jets, including four sorties on Sunday that struck various Tiger gathering points, the military said without giving details of casualties.

On Friday and Saturday, at least 53 rebels and five soldiers were killed in fighting at various places along a jagged frontline that stretches from coast to coast. That followed two of the bloodiest days in months in which more than 130 people were killed.

The military has said it is within five kilometres of the Tigers' headquarters town of Kilinochchi, 330km north of the capital Colombo.

Seizing that town would be a strategic and symbolic victory for President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, which in January officially threw out a ceasefire both sides had ignored and vowed to wipe out the Tigers and end a war raging since 1983.