Thousands flee Sri Lanka fighting

COLOMBO, March 25, 2007 (AFP) – Thousands of Tamil civilians were on the run in north Sri Lanka on Sunday as troops and Tiger rebels traded artillery fire across a de facto border, with both sides claiming heavy casualties.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said about 2,000 men, women and children fled their homes in the district of Mannar where heavy fighting has raged since Thursday.

One government soldier was killed and three more wounded in Mannar district in the latest shelling, the defence ministry said Sunday. It said troops retaliated in kind and inflicted unspecified casualties on the guerrillas.

The ministry said they estimated that at least 49 Tiger rebels were killed in the latest fighting. The military placed its own losses at 10 killed and 46 seriously wounded, with another 45 listed as minor casualties.

For their part, the LTTE said they lost 13 of their combatants and claimed to have killed 60 government troops. Both sides are known to overestimate the losses suffered by the other.

Thousands of civilians living along the de facto border separating Tamil Tiger territory from the rest of the island fled to the safety of public buildings to avoid shelling by both sides, l