Sri Lankan Military Jets Pound Rebel Positions

Military jets pounded separatist Tamil Tiger positions in northern and eastern Sri Lanka Saturday as the rebels sent a private letter to the head of the Norwegian peace negotiation team.

The contents of the letter were unknown, but earlier this week rebels warned they would pull out of a 2002 cease-fire negotiated by Norway if the government continues to attack rebel positions.

The latest fighting broke out Friday and has left dozens of troops and rebels dead. Each side has denied initiating the attacks.

The fighting came one day after the government said it was ready to resume peace talks later this month in Switzerland. About 1,500 people have died in increasingly heavy fighting since the last round of talks in February.

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Rebel spokesman Daya Master said the head of the rebels' political wing sent the letter to Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer regarding the Tigers' stance on what they consider to be the military's offensive in the east.

Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said an airstrike was launched Saturday in Pallai in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, where both sides trade artillery and mortar fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the airstrike.

The military said the Tigers launched the attack in the east, while the rebels accused the army of starting the offensive in a bid to grab rebel-held territory.

A spokesman for the Nordic cease-fire monitoring mission, Thorfinnur Omarsson, said it was difficult to say who started the latest round of clashes.

The Tigers have been fighting since the 1970s for a separate homeland in the north and the east, where most of the country's 3.2 million Hindu Tamils live, because of discrimination at the hands of the 14 million Sinhalese, who are largely Buddhist.

About 65,000 people died in the conflict before the truce.