COLOMBO Dec 23 Sri Lankan troops fought a series of clashes with Tamil Tiger rebels over the weekend, killing 22 rebels, destroying several bunkers and capturing an insurgent base, the military said on Sunday.
Troops killed 8 Tigers early on Sunday during a raid on a rebel bunker line on the far northern Jaffna peninsula, and three others in a clash in the northern district of Vavuniya, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
On Saturday, troops took control of a base on the Tigers' side of a heavily defended "border" that separates government from rebel-held territory, hours after capturing an insurgent checkpoint further west on the forward defence line, he said.
"They abandoned the base, maybe due to artillery fire and various engagements in the area," Nanayakkara said. "So they must have thought there was no advantage in staying and fled."
He said eight Tigers and one soldier were killed during the clash over the checkpoint in the northwestern district of Mannar, and that troops had overrun seven rebel bunkers there.
The military said three more rebels died on Saturday in two separate clashes.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are seeking to carve out an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment. There was no independent account of what had happened or how many people were killed.
However, pro-rebel Web site www.tamilnet.com cited the Tigers as saying 17 soldiers were killed and 54 were wounded in Saturday's Mannar clash, and that the army had been defeated.
Analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.
Well over 5,000 people have been killed since early last year in near daily land and sea battles, bombings and air raids.
The government has vowed to wipe out the Tigers militarily and to clear the rebels from territory they control in the island's north after driving them from eastern strongholds earlier this year.
Military analysts say there is no clear winner on the horizon, and fear a war in which around 70,000 people have been killed since 1983 could rumble on for years. (Reporting by Simon Gardner)