Sri Lanka toll climbs amid heavy shelling

COLOMBO, March 17, 2007 (AFP) – Government troops and Tiger rebels traded artillery attacks in northern Sri Lanka Saturday as the overnight toll rose to at least six soldiers and a rebel killed, officials said. More than 4,000 people have been killed in a new wave of fighting since December 2005 despite a truce that has been in place, at least on paper, since February 2002.

Security forces lost five soldiers and 23 were wounded in the district of Vavuniya, while another soldier was killed further north in the Jaffna peninsula, military officials said.

Security forces tried to advance towards Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) positions in the Vavuniya district, but were beaten back by heavy mortar fire from the guerrillas, the Tigers said.

Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan said one of their fighters was killed and several others wounded in a three-hour confrontation on Friday.

He said the artillery exchanges were continuing on Saturday but there were no fresh casualties reported.