Sri Lanka steels for bloodier battles as monsoon rains set in

September 7, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lankan troops have moved closer to dismantling the Tamil Tigers’ de facto state after months of heavy clashes with the rebels, but the battles ahead could be even bloodier, officials and analysts say. Monsoon rains expected to intensify in the coming weeks could bog down tanks and make artillery less effective in soggy terrain, forcing both sides to engage in close combat, according to military experts.

Sri Lanka has poured a record 1.5 billion dollars this year into fighting the rebels, battling for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, with an aim of crushing the insurgency by the middle of next year.

The number of rebels killed since January has risen to 6,387, according to government figures. The military says 613 soldiers have died in the same period in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1972.

Last week, security forces announced they were just 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) south of their objective — capturing the rebel political capital of Kilinochchi in the island’s north. But fighting has intensified with the rebels offering stiff resistance.

Ranil Wijayapala, defence expert for the state-run Daily News, said troops suffered a “temporary setb