- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Sri Lankan soldiers killed at least 15 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 South Asian island’s 25-year civil war.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said army troops found the bodies of 15 guerrillas killed in fighting Wednesday and Thursday. He did not provide details of any casualties suffered by government troops.

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

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 also trapped in the area.

Rebel officials could not be reached since most communication to the north has been severed and accounts of the fighting could not be verified independently because 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 any mass evacuation of civilians _ fueling suspicion they are using them as human shields.

The U.N. says that 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.

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