April 12, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse called for national unity Saturday in his traditional New Year message as 10 more deaths were reported in the conflict-racked nation. “It is my conviction that we would be strengthened by engaging in New Year traditions and customs as one nation,” Rajapakse said in a message marking the New Year, which is celebrated by both the Sinhalese-majority and the Tamil minority.
The president’s message came as the defence ministry said it had killed at least nine Tamil rebels in fighting in the north.
The rebels were killed on Friday as government troops traded fire with guerrilla forces and smashed rebel bunkers in the northern region, the defence ministry said.
There was no immediate comment from the Tamil Tiger rebels, who said that unidentified assailants shot dead a Tamil carpenter in the northern town of Jaffna on Friday.
Fighting is concentrated largely around the island’s north after government troops ejected the rebels from their eastern stronghold last year.
In his New Year message, Rajapakse said he was pleased to “see the people of the East, who were oppressed by terrorism for over two decades, enjoying the