Sri Lankan troops, rebels clash near Tiger HQ (Sri Lanka)

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels clashed again on Tuesday in driving monsoon rains, with soldiers probing the edge of the guerrillas' headquarters town after three bloody days of combat, the military said.


Sri Lankan soldiers ambushed and killed two rebels on Tuesday on the northern Jaffna Peninsula, the military said. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters also killed two soldiers in an anti-personnel mine explosion, both sides said.

With LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran due to give a rallying cry at his annual Heroes' Day speech on Thursday, the army is fighting toward Kilinochchi -- a strategic and symbolic prize for the army -- from the west, north and south.

"Soldiers are trying to negotiate the earth bund (mound) south of Kilinochchi, and are probing the defences," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara said. Units are 5 km west and and less than 2 km southwest, he said.

Soldiers ambushed and killed two rebels in Kilali south of a rebel defence line the army seized last week, he said. Kilali is on the thin neck of the Jaffna Peninsula, and long one of the LTTE's strongest defences to the north of Kilinochchi.

Troops on patrol killed four LTTE in Horowpatuna, a northern area away from the battlefront, Nanayakkara added.

TamilNet on Tuesday released pictures provided by the LTTE of a battle on Sunday in which it said 43 soldiers were killed.

One photo showed two rebels standing over the bodies of six dead men in military fatigues, while another showed what TamilNet said was an LTTE fighter firing a machine gun.

Independent verification is difficult because both sides limit media access to the war zone.


Tuesday's clashes followed a bloody weekend in which both sides said they killed scores during battles to capture Kilinochchi, the separatist rebels' self-declared capital 330 km north of the capital Colombo.

Talk is rife that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will use the battlefield successes -- the most by any government in the 25-year war -- to call early elections and counter criticism about the country's ailing economy.

Rajapaksa in January threw out a 2002 ceasefire with a pledge to defeat the group that has fought since 1983 to create a separate state for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils. The LTTE has subsequently landed on U.S., EU and Indian terrorism lists.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch accused the government of failing to stop rights abuses by breakaway Tigers with which it had allied to capture Eastern Province from the LTTE last year.

"Killings and abductions are rife and there is total impunity for horrific abuses," Human Rights Watch's Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement.

The government has long acknowledged problems exist with the breakaway TMVP party including a rift between its leaders, but said Human Rights Watch had totally ignored acts by the LTTE, itself accused of rights abuses for years.

"They attribute everything to the TMVP and it's uncertain. It is categorically what Human Rights Watch reads as abuses by the government or quarters close to the government," Human Rights Ministry Secretary Rajiva Wijesinghe told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal)

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Von: 25.11.2008, by C. Bryson Hull,

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