Source AP ©

Sri Lankan Civil war: 17 rebels and 2 policemen killed

17 Tamil Tiger rebels were killed in a series of battles in the north of the country. Two policemen were blown up by a roadside bomb.

Army troops and insurgents exchanged small arms fire across the de facto border that separates government- and rebel-held territories in northern Mannar district Friday, leaving 12 rebels dead, a defense official said on condition of anonymity, citing government policy. Three soldiers were wounded.

The roadside bomb blast occurred in the eastern Batticaloa district around 10:00 a.m. Saturday as the two officers were riding past on their motorbike, the official said, blaming the Tamil rebels.

Two other rebels died in a separate gunbattle in Mannar on Friday while in the neighboring Vavuniya district, soldiers killed three insurgents.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment, and the military's claim could not be independently confirmed because journalists are barred from the areas.

Government troops have in recent months intensified military action against the Tigers in the north after seizing rebel strongholds in the east.

On Friday, a sea battle, ground clashes and a bomb blast killed 21 rebels and a soldier in north.

The rebels have been fighting for more than two decades for an independent homeland for the island's ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east, following a history of discrimination under governments controlled by the majority Sinhalese.

A Norwegian-brokered cease-fire in 2002 brought relative calm to the country, but a new wave of violence arose in December 2005 and has killed more than 5,000 people.

More than 70,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1983.