Sri Lanka military, rebels trade death toll claims

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s military and the Tamil Tigers on Saturday each claimed fresh kills against their foe, contradicting each other amid a propaganda war raging parallel to a new phase in a 25-year civil war.

The military said troops killed 22 Tiger rebels for the loss of one soldier in the island’s far north on Friday, while pro-rebel Web site quoted the Tigers as saying they had killed 11 soldiers and wounded many the same day.

“Troops killed 22 LTTE (Tamil Tiger) terrorists in fighting in Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna on Friday,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, referring to northern districts straddling rebel-held and government territory.

He could not explain why the government’s Defence Ministry Web site was reporting that 45 Tigers had been killed -- double the military’s statistics.

The military has reported near daily rebel death tolls in the dozens in recent weeks, and analysts say the statistics are inflated.

Proof is rarely offered by either side, and with Nordic truce monitors banished by the government after President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally scrapped a 6-year truce in January, independent confirmation of battlefield losses is rarely possible.

Since the start of 2006, more than 6,500 rebels, 1,200 military personnel and over 980 civilians have been killed, according to the military.

However while analysts say the government has the upper hand given strength of numbers, improved air power and battlefield gains in the east, they see no clear winner in a war that has killed more than 70,000 people since 1983.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and roadside bombs, experts and the military say.

The violence hurt tourist arrivals last year, which fell 12 percent from a year earlier, while the stock market slid nearly 7 percent in 2007, with some businesses shelving investment plans.