September 30, 2008 / 12:50 PM / 11 years ago

Sri Lanka land and sea battles kill 53

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Land and sea battles in northern Sri Lanka killed at least 53 people during sustained assaults on the separatist Tamil Tigers rebels, the military said on Tuesday.

In an ocean battle, the Sri Lankan navy said it blew up two Tiger boats and killed at least eight "Sea Tiger" fighters.

Land clashes in the Indian Ocean island nation’s north on Tuesday killed 39 rebels and six soldiers, while wounding 52 insurgents and 19 soldiers, the military said.

The sea battle took place on Tuesday near Pooneryn, a strategic LTTE artillery base which helps stop soldiers from advancing across the narrowest part of the Jaffna Peninsula and boxing in the rebels from two sides.

Fighting in the past two weeks has increased with death tolls climbing as the army inches toward the headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Kilinochchi, about 330 km (200 miles) north of the capital Colombo.

On Monday, the air force said jets bombed a Tamil Tiger rebel gathering but gave no other details. The rebels, silent for weeks on battlefield casualties, could not be reached for comment.

The LTTE, on U.S., EU, and Indian terrorism lists, wants a separate homeland Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils. Since independence from Britain in 1948, the island has governed by leaders from the Sinhalese majority which makes up 75 percent of the nation’s 21 million people. (Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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