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Sri Lanka fighting surges, 150 rebels die – army

[Reuters, Monday, 9 March 2009 10:38 No Comment]

Sri Lankan soldiers killed at least 150 elite Tamil Tiger fighters carrying out waves of counterattacks, and the pace of refugees fleeing the tiny war zone picked up speed, the military said on Monday.

Heavy combat erupted over the weekend, suggesting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were mounting a desperate defence against a military onslaught that has confined them to 45 square km (17 sq mile) in the Indian Ocean island’s northeast.
Since Saturday, the LTTE’s elite Charles Anthony Brigade and Radha Regiment have attempted to punch through the army’s frontline, the military said.

"Now they have not held back. Their elite fighters have been deployed to stop troops from entering those areas," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. "Yesterday we recovered 50 bodies, and have recovered 150 in all."

Nanayakkara said there are likely to be more discovered as soldiers finish clearing operations.

After 25 years of off-and-on civil war, Sri Lanka’s military is racing toward a final battle to crush the separatist group as a conventional force.

The only thing slowing its advance is tens of thousands of civilians, mostly being held by the LTTE at gunpoint and suffering in dire conditions packed into a narrow 12-km long coastal strip, aid agencies say.

In the same period, at least 676 civilians escaped the war zone, some on foot but the vast majority by boat, Nanayakkara said.

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