Battles in Sri Lanka Kill 32 Tamil Rebels, 9 Soldiers, Says Military

Battles, roadside bombings and mortar attacks across Sri Lanka's turbulent north killed 32 Tamil Tiger rebels and nine government soldiers, the military said Thursday.

The newly reported fighting Wednesday took place along the front lines separating government-controlled territory with the rebels' de facto state in the north, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The casualties brought the death toll from fighting Wednesday to 45 rebels and 10 soldiers, he said. All the soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and mortar attacks, he said.

In the worst clash, 18 rebels and seven soldiers were killed in the Mannar region, he said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls seeking comment.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because journalists are banned from the war zone. Both the government and rebels often exaggerate the other side's casualties and underreport their own.

Meanwhile, Catholic priests appealed to both government forces and Tamil rebels to avoid clashes near a sacred Catholic Church premises in the Mannar district. Both military and rebels have accused each other of firing mortars into the church premises and nearby areas during the last two days.

Fighting had fallen off over the past week because of heavy rain, but appears to have escalated again in recent days.

Nanayakkara said the rebels were fiercely trying to recapture land the military had seized.

"They keep on attacking those locations ... and we repulse them," he said.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by successive governments run by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.