Sri Lankan protoganists jockey for power

Aug 15 (AFP) – The fiercest fighting between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels for four years appears to be an attempt by both sides to gain the upper hand before eventual peace talks, analysts say. The Sri Lankan government ordered the closure of schools fearing rebel reprisals against school children elsewhere in a move analysts said underscored the fear and uncertainty that had gripped the country. A Norwegian-arranged truce is in tatters and both sides accuse each other of plunging the country towards full-scale war, but they also publicly commit to a faltering peace process that has been on hold since April 2003.

While the two sides argue about casualty figures, there is little doubt the fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the army that began on Friday in northern Jaffna peninsula has been the bloodiest in years.

The military says it has lost 150 soldiers and more than 300 have been wounded.

The defence ministry says at least 200 rebels have been killed and over 350 wounded, although the Tigers say they lost only 22 fighters in the first two days of fighting and have given no record of casualties since.

A conservative official estimate places the