Sri Lanka troops, Tigers in gunbattle, 18 rebels dead: officials

Feb 1, 2008 (AFP) - Security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels have traded heavy artillery fire in northern Sri Lanka, killing 18 rebels, officials said Friday, a day after Japan warned it may stop aid unless fighting subsided. Backed by war planes and heavy guns, the military smashed several rebel bunkers and killed at least 18 guerrillas in clashes across the north on Thursday, the defence ministry said.

However, the Tigers said they beat back an army offensive into rebel-held areas.

"The Sri Lankan army is feared to have suffered heavy losses in the battles," the pro-rebel website said.

As fighting continued, Japan on Thursday cautioned the Colombo government.
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"We could be forced to review our aid policy if military action keeps escalating," Yasushi Akashi, Japan's special peace envoy to the island, told reporters in Tokyo.

At least 852 rebels and 32 soldiers have died since the beginning of January, according to defence ministry figures.

At least 103 civilians have also been killed in the same period, according to both sides.

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