69 killed as Sri Lanka troops attack Tamil Tigers
Thursday, 31 January 2008

Agence France-Presse . Colombo

Sri Lanka's government said Tuesday its soldiers had advanced into territory held by Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the island, with the death toll from two days of fighting at 69.

The rebels meanwhile accused the army of setting off a roadside bomb in the north that killed 11 children, six adults and wounded 17 others who were travelling on a school bus.

Two forest officers were also found hacked to death inside the Wasgamuwa national park in the island's central province on Tuesday, the military said. In the latest fighting, the defence ministry said its troops smashed 16 guerrilla bunkers in the district of Mannar on Tuesday and killed at least 22 rebels.

Security forces killed 45 rebels along the northern frontlines on Monday, the ministry said, putting its own losses at two soldiers dead and 10 wounded.

There was no immediate comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, but the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com web site said the guerrillas were using booby-trapped devices and snipers against attacking troops.

'At least 11 school children and the principal of the school were (among those) killed when the Sri Lanka Army triggered a Claymore mine targeting a bus carrying school children,' Tamilnet said.

It said the attack took place on Tuesday afternoon in the Mannar area, and blamed a Sri Lankan army 'deep penetration unit' – a reference to commandos operating behind guerrilla lines. Since the beginning of January, the Sri Lankan defence ministry says its forces have killed 815 rebels for the loss of just 30 soldiers.

Both sides are known to give wildly varying casualty figures which cannot be independently verified. The government bars reporters from visiting frontline areas and rebel-held territory.

Sri Lanka pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the rebels this month, underscoring its belief that it has the upper hand in the drawn-out conflict.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the LTTE launched its campaign to carve out an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation in 1972.

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