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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sri Lanka update - 12 Jan 2008

Saturday, 12 January 2008, 11:01 GMT

Sri Lanka claims 59 rebel deaths
By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Colombo

Fifty-nine Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed in the latest fighting in Sri Lanka, the military said, adding that one of its soldiers was also killed.

However, the Tigers, who want an independent state for the Tamil minority, have dismissed the figures.

They have accused the government of making false claims of victories to retain the support of the Sinhalese majority in the south.

The government is to formally pull out of a 2002 ceasefire deal on 16 January.

The pace of fighting in Sri Lanka has picked up since the government gave notice it was abandoning the ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers.

Heavy price

As on earlier days, the battles continued on Friday on the frontlines that fringe rebel-held territory in the north.

A spokesman for the military said 59 Tiger fighters had been killed as well as one soldier.

But the head of the rebels' Peace Secretariat, S Puleedevan, accused Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence of putting out false propaganda, saying if their figures were to be believed there would not be a single Tamil left on the island.

He said soldiers were trying to push across the frontlines but were being repulsed with casualties.

With the ceasefire formally coming to an end next week there is likely to be a further escalation in the conflict.

The commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, has said his aim is to eliminate the Tigers before he leaves office at the end of the year.

But the rebels say they are ready for all-out war, with Mr Puleedevan warning if soldiers take one step into Tiger-controlled territory they would pay a heavy price.

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