Sri Lanka battle lines shift, toll hits 37

COLOMBO, March 23, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lankan troops advanced into an area held by the Tamil Tiger rebels, shifting the battle lines to the island’s north, the military said Friday, as they announced they had killed 13 rebels. Heavily armed soldiers “neutralised” a threat from the Tiger guerrillas on the de facto border with rebel-held territory in the northwestern coastal district of Mannar, defence ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said.

“What we have done is to neutralise the threat to our positions,” Samarasinghe said. “We have not captured territory.”

Military sources said that four soldiers and 20 guerrillas were killed in fresh fighting Friday morning while security forces said they killed 11 more rebels in the same area on Thursday.

At least 19 soldiers were also wounded when the Tigers fired mortars and resisted the military push, military sources said.

Another two Tigers were reported killed further north in the Jaffna peninsula where sporadic fire fights raged Friday, the military said.

The heavy fighting forced the closure of the de facto border crossing point at Omanthai, local officials said.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan said those kille