Sri Lanka says 23 killed in heavy fighting

COLOMBO, March 14, 2008 (AFP) – Heavy fighting between security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in northern Sri Lanka has left at least 23 guerrillas dead and five government soldiers wounded, the defence ministry said Friday. Tens of thousands have been killed since the ethnic conflict erupted in 1972. Clashes erupted in the Wanni region as well as the Jaffna peninsula, along the de facto border of the mini-state of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Thursday, the ministry said.

According to ministry figures, government troops have killed at least 2,066 rebels while 123 soldiers have died since the beginning of the year.

Both sides release conflicting casualty figures, which cannot be independently verified as the government bars reporters and rights groups from frontline areas.

The Colombo government pulled out of a six-year truce with the LTTE in January and fighting has since escalated.