Sri Lanka says at least 29 killed in fresh fighting

June 23, 2008 (AFP) – Heavy fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels across Sri Lanka’s northern regions left at least 29 combatants dead, the defence ministry said on Monday. At least 23 rebels and six government soldiers were killed as troops exchanged artillery fire and smashed through guerrilla bunkers in the district of Mannar on Sunday, the ministry said.

It said a total of 40 Tiger rebels and 21 government troopers were also wounded in the latest clashes.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) did not comment on the Mannar fighting, but said it beat back an army advance in the neighbouring Vavuniya district on Sunday, killing 18 soldiers.

Casualty tolls from either side cannot be independently verified as the defence ministry restricts reporters from travelling to the frontlines.

Elsewhere, police commandos shot dead two rebels during a shoot-out on Sunday in the eastern coastal district of Batticaloa, the military said.

Sunday’s clashes raises the number of rebels killed by government troops to 4,376, while the military says it has lost 407 soldiers since January.