- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Air force jets attacked a rebel intelligence base deep in northern Sri Lanka early Wednesday, stepping up a punishing wave of airstrikes a day after Tamil Tiger fighters launched a surprise attack on a military base, the military said.

The Tamil Tigers said the bombs hit a civilian settlement in the rebel’s administrative capital of Kilinochchi, destroying 12 houses.

Separate battles between the two sides killed 19 rebels and two soldiers, the military said.

The air force has conducted a series of bombing raids over rebel-held territory in the north since the Tamil Tigers attacked a military complex in Vavuniya early Tuesday with a massive artillery barrage, aerial bombing and a ground assault conducted by suicide attackers.

The military said that attack killed 13 troops, 1 civilian and 11 of the attackers. The rebels said at least 20 government troops and 10 rebel fighters were killed.

The raid also injured two Indian technicians who were servicing a radar system at the base, said Dinkar Asthana, a spokesman for the Indian High Commission in Colombo. “They are out of danger and they are being treated,” he said, providing no further details.

Independent verification of the fighting is difficult to obtain because most journalists are banned from the war zone. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy losses and underreport their own.

Violence along the war zone in the north has escalated as the government pressed ahead with its promise to crush the separatists and end the 25-year-old civil war by the end of the year. In recent weeks, a reinvigorated military offensive seized large areas of land from the rebels.

Battles along the war front in the Kilinochchi, Welioya and Vavuniya areas killed 19 rebels and two soldiers Tuesday, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.

With the fighting worsening, the government announced it was barring all foreign aid workers from rebel areas, and the United Nations said Tuesday it would be pulling its staff out this week. Many aid workers said they feared for the welfare of the 160,000 people displaced by the fighting if the aid groups are forced to withdraw.

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