Sri Lanka steps up air strikes, ground battles: military

April 16, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka stepped up air attacks against Tamil Tiger rebels Wednesday, deploying jets and helicopter gunships as 12 guerrillas were killed in ground battles, defence officials said. Fighter jets bombed a suspected Tamil Tiger base in the northern town of Oddusudan overnight while Mi-24 helicopter gunships were deployed to attack rebel bunkers further north in the Jaffna peninsula, officials said.

They said pilots confirmed hitting the targets. There was no immediate word from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have been resisting a major military thrust on the de facto mini state they run in the north.

The defence ministry said at least 12 rebels were killed in separate ground attacks since Tuesday.

Ministry figures show that at least 2,869 rebels have been killed by government troops since the start of the year, while 172 soldiers have lost their lives in the same period.

Verification of casualty claims is impossible as Colombo bars journalists and aid workers from travelling to embattled areas.