Sri Lanka says over 420 Tigers killed in latest battles

April 5, 2009 (AFP) – At least 420 Tamil Tiger rebels were killed in three days of clashes in northeast Sri Lanka, the military said on Sunday, as troops moved to wipe out the guerrillas after decades of conflict.

Tens of thousands of civilians would soon be rescued from the no-fire zone, army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka was quoted as telling the state-run Sunday Observer.

Concern for the non-combatants trapped in the conflict has mounted, with international calls for a pause in the fighting to allow them to escape, but the government has refused to consider any truce until the rebels surrender.

The United Nations recently reminded Sri Lankan leaders of their “responsibility to protect civilians, and to avoid the use of heavy weapons in areas where there are civilians.”

At the height of the Tigers’ power in the mid-1990s, they controlled more than a third of the total land mass of Sri Lanka in their fight for an independent Tamil homeland.

Sri Lanka, which pulled out of a Norwegian-arranged truce in January last year, has said for months that its forces were on the verge of dealing a final blow to the Tigers.

The battlefield casualty claims are impossible to verify as jour