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Sri Lanka helicopters bomb rebels, fighting kills 40

COLOMBO, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan attack helicopters pounded Tamil Tiger positions on Thursday and troops killed 33 rebels in the latest bout of an eight-month onslaught to corner the separatist group, the military said. The government has been relentlessly striking the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in its strongholds in the northern districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya since an official ceasefire collapsed in January,

“MI-24 attack helicopters engaged LTTE gathering northwest of Omantai in Vavuniya this morning,” Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.

He gave no details of casualties but said: “Pilots confirm that the target was accurately engaged.” The military also said ground fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday had killed 33 rebels and wounded 40. Seven soldiers also died and 27 were wounded in the same battles.

Independent death tolls are difficult to establish because both sides regularly distort the figures to their benefit, and the war zones are restricted by the military.

The rebels, who have carried out a 25-year insurgency to establish an independent state for the ethnic minority Tamil people in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment.

The war has killed at least 70,000 people. So far this year, according to a compilation of military data, some 5,900 rebels have been killed against the loss of 783 soldiers. (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Bryson Hull and Valerie Lee)

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