Sri Lanka troops near Tiger stronghold amidst heavy fighting: military

November 7, 2008 (AFP) – Intense battles gripped Sri Lanka’s northern Wanni region as government forces stepped up pressure on the Tamil rebel political capital, the defence ministry said Friday.

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Scores of rebels were killed and many more wounded in Thursday’s fighting west of Mankulam, a key town on the road to the rebel political headquarters at Kilinochchi, further north, the ministry said in a statement.

It did not give military casualties, but said the bodies of seven members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were captured by security forces following Thursday’s battles.

Government forces have been fighting for months to take Kilinochchi, 330 kilometres (just over 200 miles) north of the capital Colombo.

Heavy monsoon rains and intense rebel resistance had slowed the military onslaught.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also the defence minister, asked the Tigers on Thursday to lay down arms and surrender.

“My earnest plea to the terrorist is to lay-down arms and join the democratic process, even at this late stage,