96 Tamil Tigers killed in Sri Lanka: Military (Lead)

April 4th, 2009 - 11:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 4 (IANS) Sri Lankan troops killed 96 Tamil Tigers in close-quarter ground battles Saturday, as fighting in the last rebel strongholds in the island’s northeast stepped up, a military official here said.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the troops mounting attacks on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from several directions in Mullaitivu district had inflicted heavy damage on the rebels in terms of both men and material.

“At least 96 LTTE dead bodies and a haul of weapons, including a 130 mm long-range artillery gun, have been captured by the troops so far today from Puthukkudiyiruppu and Puthumathalan areas,” Nanayakkara told IANS.

“This is the biggest blow for the LTTE in a single day fighting in the recent past,” he added.

Several vehicles, including a super-luxury jeep believed to have been used by top-rung LTTE leaders, were recovered during the search operation.

Sri Lanka, confident of completely defeating the LTTE militarily, claimed last week that its troops have cornered the rebels into a mere 21 sq km land stretch, of which 20 sq km has been declared a no-fire-zone for thousands of civilians trapped in the war.

Fierce ground battles took place hours after the navy and the army destroyed four LTTE boats in two separate incidents early Saturday after confronting a cluster of LTTE boats, killing 18 rebels onboard off the north-eastern coast of Mullaitivu.

Defence sources said troops had recovered all 18 bodies of the LTTE militants. They said two sailors were wounded and three naval boats sustained minor damage in the battle that broke out around 1.30 a.m. and lasted for several hours.

There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state in the island’s north-eastern provinces over the past quarter century.

According to official statistics, the number of civilians fleeing the rebel-held areas defying LTTE orders was on the rise and over 62,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have already entered the government-held areas since the beginning of 2009.

These IDPs are temporarily housed in welfare centers and villages in the northern Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna districts.

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