Heavy fighting in Sri Lanka as troops move to secure port

Aug 28, 2006 (AFP) – At least four Sri Lankan soldiers were killed and 41 wounded as security forces launched a ground offensive Monday to push back guerrilla artillery threatening a strategic naval port, officials said. More than 60,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka’s drawn out Tamil separatist conflict and political talks on ending the violence have been on hold since April 2003. Troops backed by multi-barrel rocket launchers and artillery guns moved towards the rebel-held town of Sampur at the southern edge of the Koddiyar bay where the main naval port of Trincomalee is located, officials said.

“A ground offensive was launched this morning and troops are moving towards Sampur,” a military source said. “Troops are expecting close quarter fighting, but the casualties so far had been due to artillery and mortar bombs.”

The offensive was launched Monday after the Tigers fired mortar bombs and small arms at security forces, the defence ministry said in a statement.

Military officials and hospital sources in the region said four soldiers were killed and 41 injured in the fighting which appeared to subside by early afternoon.

Hospital sources said 43 soldiers with shrapnel wounds were brought to three h