Government soldiers attacked Tamil Tiger rebel bunkers in Sri Lanka’s embattled north, triggering battles that killed 15 guerrillas, the military said.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, meanwhile, defended Tuesday his government’s internationally criticized decision to scrap a cease-fire deal with the rebels.
In the first battle, troops attacked four rebel bunkers in Palaikkuli village of northern Mannar district and killed 10 guerrillas, a defense official said on condition of anonymity citing government rules.
Hours later, another clash broke out in Parappankandal village also in Mannar, in which soldiers killed five insurgents, the official said. No troop casualties were sustained.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels, but a pro-rebel website claimed 12 soldiers were killed and 27 more wounded in the first battle. The soldiers died after stepping on land mines and getting caught in booby traps, the report said.
It was not possible to independently verify the military’s claims because the fighting took place deep in the northern jungles, where access is restricted. Both sides often release inflated casualty figures for their opponents while lowering their own.
Violence has intensified in the Indian Ocean island nation since the government announced early this month that it was scrapping a six-year-old cease-fire between the government and rebels, a pact that had largely been ignored in recent years. The truce officially ended last Wednesday.
Sri Lanka’s president told a meeting with journalists Tuesday that his patience with the rebels had wore thin.
“I waited for two years to do it. I warned the terrorists not to harm any civilians, but they were doing it,” Rajapaksa said. The government routinely calls the Tigers terrorists.
Countries that donate aid to Sri Lanka or that backed the truce - including Japan, Norway, United States and European Union members - immediately raised concerns about human rights and civilian safety following the announcement.
More than 400 people have been killed in renewed violence across the country since the government withdrew from the truce, according to military figures.
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state in the north and east for the country’s ethnic Tamil minority after decades of being marginalized by Sinhalese-dominated governments. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people. (AP)