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Sri Lanka fighting kills 56, rebel base captured

COLOMBO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Almost 50 Tamil Tiger fighters and seven soldiers have been killed and an important rebel training base has been captured in fighting in Sri Lanka’s north over the past two days, the military said on Sunday.

The rebel training base in Mullaitivu district, complete with underground bunkers, was captured on Saturday while fighter jets bombed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) positions as part of a continued push into rebel strongholds in the north.

“Troops have captured one of LTTE training bases with 100 underground bunkers,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

Nanayakkara described the capture of the training base as a blow to the rebels, who are fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka for ethnic Tamils, a minority in the predominantly Sinhalese island nation.

“Whenever we come across these types of bases and camps we will attack them and cause maximum casualties to them and this will affect their fighting capacity,” Nanayakkara said.

The military said 49 Tamil Tiger rebels had been killed in fighting since Friday and another 59 wounded. It said seven soldiers were also killed and 32 wounded.

The latest push comes days after the military said it had captured an LTTE administrative hub, a strike it says will restrict rebel sea movement on the country’s northwestern coast.

The military claims its forces have entered the Vanni region in the north where the rebels’ de facto capital Kilinochchi is located, amid a barrage of land, sea and air attacks.

The Tamil Tigers were not immediately available for comment on the latest fighting.

So far this year some 5,823 rebels have been killed in the fighting with the loss of 767 soldiers, according to a compilation of military data.

Both sides frequently underplay their losses and exaggerate their victories. Independent verification of their claims is difficult.

Sri Lanka’s government is pursuing a strategy to gradually retake the Tigers’ northern stronghold and win the 25-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

Analysts say the military has an advantage in the latest phase of the war given its 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. (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Paul Tait)