21 dead in Sri Lanka fighting: defence ministry

COLOMBO, April 11, 2007 (AFP) – Heavy fighting between government troops and Tamil Tigers in northern Sri Lanka has left 21 people dead on both sides, the defence ministry said Wednesday. The clashes erupted when rebels fired mortars against military positions late Tuesday across a front line at Omanthai, the main crossing point between government- and Tiger-held territory.

The ministry said one government soldier was killed and four others wounded, adding intercepted rebel radio communication showed 20 rebels were killed in the military retaliation.

However, Tamil Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan denied losing 20 fighters and placed rebel casualties at three dead. He said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recovered the bodies of eight Sri Lankan troops.

The Omanthai crossing was shut for the second straight day Wednesday following the shelling.

The military said the LTTE were shelling government positions to obstruct the transport of supplies across the front line.

The International Red Cross this week expressed concern over a sharp rise in civilian deaths in the northern and eastern regions.

Journalists have not been allowed into rebel-held ar