Sri Lanka says 60 killed in heavy weekend battles

March 9, 2008 (AFP) – At least 56 Tamil Tiger rebels and four government troops have been killed in heavy fighting across Sri Lanka’s embattled north over the weekend, the defence ministry said Sunday. Helicopter gunships were deployed against suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) strongholds in the coastal district of Mannar on Saturday, the defence ministry said.

It said a total of 56 rebels were killed in clashes on Friday and Saturday when the military made a new push into rebel-held territory in the northwestern coastal area.

There was no immediate word from the Tigers, but the pro-rebel Puthinam.com website said the guerrillas had resisted the military offensive, killing 22 government troopers and wounding a further 72.

It did not give rebel casualties.

So far this year, the defence ministry has reported that security forces have killed at least 1,957 rebels for the loss of 117 government soldiers.

The government numbers and those given by the Tigers cannot be independently confirmed as Colombo bars journalists and rights groups from frontline areas.

Three Sri Lankan MPs have also been killed this year, including a lawmaker who died in a blast on Thursda