Source AP ©

Five Tamil Tiger rebels killed in battles in northern Sri Lanka

Five Tamil Tiger rebels were killed in a series of battles with Sri Lankan government troops in the north of the country.

The battles in the Vavuniya and Mannar districts brought the number of Tamil Tiger rebels killed Thursday to 15, according to military figures. Two soldiers also were missing from the fighting in recent days, the military said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not return calls seeking comment. Each side routinely exaggerates the other's casualties and plays down its own. Independent confirmation is unavailable due to restricted access to the conflict zone.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east following decades of discrimination under governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict.

Fighting has flared in recent weeks across the front lines in the north, where the rebels maintain a de facto state.

The government has called for the destruction of the rebel group in the wake of a bombing of a passenger bus in the north that killed 16 people on Wednesday.

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