Heavy fighting kills 26 in Sri Lanka: defence ministry

June 18, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels engaged in heavy fighting in the embattled north, leaving at least 23 rebels and three soldiers killed, the defence ministry said on Wednesday. “Heavy fighting was reported from Navathkulama, Periyamadu, Kayamoddai, Palamodai and Koviltkunchukulam areas according to military reports,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

It said 23 Tigers were killed in separate clashes. The ministry placed military losses at three soldiers killed since Tuesday.

Those deaths included a soldier who died in a firefight which erupted when Tiger rebels attacked an army post in the northwestern district of Mannar early on Wednesday, military officials said.

The latest deaths raised the number of rebels killed by security forces since January to 4,303, according to the defence ministry, which says 391 security personnel and police have died in combat over the same period.

There was no comment from the Tigers.

The official figures cannot be independently verified since journalists are barred from visiting front-line areas.

The government insists it has the upper hand in the decades-long conflict with the Tigers and has poured a recor