- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Sri Lankan soldiers killed at least 32 Tamil separatists in several battles aimed at capturing the last rebel enclave in the island’s war-ravaged north, the military said Friday.

The army has ousted the Tamil Tigers from most of their strongholds in a hard-fought offensive the government hopes will end the 25-year-old civil war.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said troops confirmed 32 guerrillas were killed, with 15 bodies recovered, in fighting around Puthukkudiyiruppu, the last rebel-held town. He provided no details of government casualties.

On Thursday, soldiers captured the last remaining medical facility held by the rebels in the north, the military said.

The Tamil Tigers are battling to hold onto a shrinking strip of jungle and beach along the northeastern coast measuring about 20 square miles (50 square kilometers). Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in the area.

Rebel officials could not be reached. Most communication to the north has been severed, and accounts of the fighting could not be verified independently because independent journalists are barred from the war zone.

The government has rejected calls from international aid groups for a cease-fire, saying it is on the verge of victory. The rebels have ruled out mass evacuation of civilians _ fueling suspicion they are being used as human shields.

The U.N. says thousands of innocents have been killed or wounded and that the survivors are desperately short of food and medical aid.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Embassy announced Friday it has given $700,000 to the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action for de-mining work in northern Sri Lanka.

Land mines from the war are a serious hazard for the hundreds of thousands displaced by the war. Japan already has given $18 million for mine clearance since 2003.

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