Clashes leave dozens dead in Sri Lanka: ministry

April 13, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka marked its traditional new year Sunday with government forces and Tamil separatists locked in fierce combat resulting in losses on both sides, defence officials said. Security forces pounded Tamil Tiger positions in the rebel-held northern Wanni region and troops smashed bunkers belonging to rebels in the Jaffna peninsula, further north, the defence ministry said.

At least 40 guerrillas had been killed since Saturday, the ministry said.

The latest clashes came as the country marked the new year, which is observed by the majority Sinhalese community and the minority Tamils.

Police said they had stepped up security in the capital Colombo and elsewhere amid fears of rebel attacks during the festive period. Most Sri Lankan workers in cities travel to the provinces to be with their families over the new year.

In the north of the island, ferocious battles erupted on Saturday when the military launched a fresh advance into rebel-held territory, the defence ministry said.

It said troops captured areas from the guerrillas, a claim denied by the Tigers.

The ministry said troops killed at least 30 Tigers for the loss of six government soldiers in t