Sri Lanka fighting set for long haul: analysts

Aug 23, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s latest fighting could drag on despite international pressure as the government and Tiger rebels seek the military upper hand before entering peace talks, officials and analysts say. The bloodiest battles in four and a half years since a truce came into effect has claimed heavy losses on both sides, but neither side appears bruised enough to limp to the negotiating table, the expert observers say.

“Neither side has got a bloody nose yet to encourage them to talks,” said one diplomatic source close to the Norwegian-backed peace process. “Both will try to see how far they can go (militarily) before agreeing to talks.”

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) accused the army of starting the latest fighting across a de facto front line in the northern peninsula of Jaffna, but Colombo says it was the rebels who fired the first shot.

War planes have been pounding Tiger positions while the rebels used their artillery to hit the main northern military airfield, about 30 kilometres (18 miles) away from their defence line, to effectively put Jaffna under siege.

Defence ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said the Tigers lost at least 487 of their cadres while the military