COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops killed 57 Tamil Tiger rebels in two days of fighting in the northern part of the island where the military has stepped up an offensive against guerrillas, the government said on Thursday.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils, however, said they lost only one fighter, and instead said 25 soldiers were killed in the gunbattles that erupted along the northern frontlines.
Both sides are known to exaggerate enemy losses while playing down their own casualties, and independent confirmation is not possible from the battlefield areas where access is denied.
“Troops killed 45 terrorists on Wednesday and 12 on Tuesday’s fighting,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, adding 12 soldiers were killed from the fighting in the northern districts of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa and Mannar.
The LTTE said in a statement emailed to Reuters overnight that its fighters killed 25 soldiers and wounded 90 in the clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Both sides blamed each other for artillery shelling on a church in Mannar in the northwest where the fighting is now focused as part of a wider strategy to gradually retake the Tigers’ northern stronghold.
Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.
An estimated 70,000 people have died since the civil war began in 1983.