Ferocious battles kills 18 in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, March 21, 2007 (AFP) – Tiger rebels on Wednesday fought pitched battles with troops in Sri Lanka while war planes bombed guerrilla positions, the military said, placing the death toll from both sides at 18.

Troops and the Tamil Tigers were locked in fierce mortar and artillery duels for five hours in the east of the island, where some 150,000 civilians had been displaced by recent fighting, the defence ministry said.

“The fighting went on for five hours and the air force was called in to bomb identified concentrations of the Tigers,” ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said. “We were also firing rockets at fleeing Tigers.”

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched a pre-dawn assault against four key military camps in the coastal Batticaloa district and several civilians were caught in the crossfire.

Local military officials said about 40 civilians were wounded in rebel mortar bomb attacks that also hit a relief centre.

The military said four soldiers were killed and 30 wounded while troops recovered the bodies of eight male rebels and one female. Another five Tigers were killed in a similar confrontation on the Jaffna peninsula, the military said.

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