Source AP ©

Sri Lankan fighter jets launch two airstrikes against rebels

On Friday Sri Lankan air forces attacked rebel troops, bombing guerilla military base and a meeting of their leaders.

The air force bombed a camp belonging to the Black Tigers, the Tamil rebel group's suicide fighters, in Iranamadu in the rebel-held Kilinochchi district, said air force spokesman Group Capt. Ajantha Silva.

The suicide unit has been the target of repeated airstrikes since it launched an attack on an air base last week that killed 14 soldiers and destroyed eight aircraft.

In a second attack Friday, air force planes pounded a gathering of rebel leaders in the same district, Silva said.

He did not give details of the damage from the attacks, saying only that the targets were hit.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer his phone, and no independent confirmation of the air strikes was immediately available. Both sides have been accused of exaggerating claims of damage to their enemy while playing down their own losses.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, following decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese-controlled governments. More than 70,000 have been killed in the fighting.

Friday's air attacks came a day after a series of ground battles near the rebels' de facto state in the north killed 30 Tamil Tiger fighters and two soldiers, according to the military.

In one attack, government troops pushed across the front lines south of their rebel-controlled area in the northern Mannar district, sparking a battle that killed 22 rebels and two soldiers, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Also Thursday, a group of rebels attacked government forces manning the front lines north of rebel-held territory, triggering a gun battle that left eight guerrillas dead, he said.

The rebel-affiliated Web site TamilNet reported that 25 soldiers were killed and more than 60 wounded in the fighting Thursday, while only seven rebels were killed.

Fighting between the two sides has escalated in recent weeks as government officials hinted they were preparing an offensive to capture the north and crush the rebels.