Sri Lanka Military: Battles Across North Kill 15 Rebels, 1 Soldier

Scattered battles between government troops and Tamil Tiger separatists across Sri Lanka's embattled north killed 15 rebels and one soldier, the military said Saturday.

Reports of fighting have increased in recent months amid government promises to capture the rebels' de facto state in the north and crush the group by the end of the year. But diplomats and other observers say the army is facing more resistance than it had expected.

A defense ministry official said the latest round of battles took place Friday near the front lines that separate government-controlled territory and rebel territory in the north. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In the worst battle, army troops killed eight guerrillas in the northern Vavuniya district, while fighting elsewhere in the region killed seven rebels and one soldier, the official said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment.

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

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