Report: 600 Killed in Sri Lanka Battles*
Sunday May 20, 2007 1:31 PM
By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Sri Lanka's government claimed Sunday to have
killed more than 500 rebels in the past four months and lost 44 of its
own soldiers in fierce fighting that has completely shattered the island
nation's peace process.
A military spokesman, Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, said 541 rebels have
been killed in fighting in two northern districts, Mannar and Vavuniya.
Both lie along the frontier separating government and rebel territory
and have become flash points in the deepening conflict.
There was no way to independently verify the military's claim, and
diplomats and members of a Nordic cease-fire monitoring mission that
remains in place have said they believe both sides routinely inflate the
number of casualties they inflict on the other.
The rebels, who almost always dispute government accounts of battles and
death tolls, did not immediately comment.
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for Sri
Lanka's Tamil minority, a predominantly Hindu ethnic group that has
faced decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese, who are
predominantly Buddhist and dominate the government and military.
More than 65,000 people were killed before a 2002 cease-fire, brokered
by Norway, temporarily quelled the fighting.
But violence has escalated in the past 18 months, resulting in more than
5,000 new deaths since December 2005, according to the Nordic monitors.
Despite the violence, the internationally backed cease-fire remains
officially in place with each side insisting they are only responding to
the other's aggression.
The latest reported deaths came Saturday in the northern Jaffna
peninsula, which is controlled by the government but surrounded by rebel
The defense ministry said that soldiers caught rebels trying to sneak
through the government's defensive lines and killed three of the insurgents.