COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Government troops killed up to 44 Tamil rebels in clashes in northern and eastern Sri Lanka while destroying three small camps in the insurgents' last eastern stronghold, the military said Wednesday.
The clashes came after the navy said it fought off a rebel sea attack off the northern Jaffna peninsula Tuesday, killing an additional 40 separatists, adding to the bloody death toll of more than two-decades of conflict in the Indian Ocean island.
On Wednesday, the military said it had recovered 25 to 30 bodies after destroying three "satellite camps" in the eastern Thoppigala region overnight. "We are now clearing mines in the area," said Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, a military spokesman.
The Tamil Tiger rebels, primarily based in the north, have their sole remaining eastern stronghold in the Thoppigala region, where the military has recently launched a major push to drive them out, capturing several of their encampments.
Three other clashes in the island's restive north and east Tuesday left an additional 14 guerrillas dead, the military said.
Guerrillas ambushed military patrols in two villages in northern Vavuniya district Tuesday, sparking gunbattles that left 11 rebels dead, an official at the Defense Ministry information center said on customary condition of anonymity.
Hours later, soldiers and police countered a rebel ambush in Kalkudah village, in eastern Batticaloa district, killing three guerrillas, the official said.
A naval patrol came under attack from about 20 separatist Tamil rebel boats off the Jaffna peninsula, prompting a fierce sea clash, said Cmdr. D.K.P. Dassanayake, a navy spokesman.
Five rebel boats were destroyed and at least 40 insurgents killed, he said.
Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to contact rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan failed, and independent verification of the incidents was not possible.
Fierce ground battles, airstrikes and assassinations have killed 5,000 people in Sri Lanka since December 2005 when violence flared anew despite a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire.
Although the cease-fire has been largely ignored, neither side has officially withdrawn from the truce fearing international criticism.
Tamil Tiger rebels have fought the government since 1983 to carve out an independent homeland for the country's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority who have faced discrimination at the hands of successive ethnic Sinhalese-controlled governments.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the more than two decades of fighting.