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Rebel attack leaves at least 46 dead, 75 injured in Sri Lanka

June 10, 1997

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Hundreds of Tamil rebels unleashed a two-pronged assault Tuesday on government-held territory in northern Sri Lanka, killing at least 46 people and wounding 75 others, the army said.

A military ammunition depot and a bridge were destroyed in the attack by nearly 500 Tamil rebels on Thandikulam, about 10 miles inside government-held territory, said army officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

They said at least 36 rebels were killed, along with six soldiers and four civilians, including a 7-year-old girl. At least 35 civilians and 40 soldiers were wounded, the officials said.

Sri Lanka’s military is fighting to open a road link to the government-controlled Jaffna Peninsula, now accessible only by air and sea. The army has advanced only 10 miles in nearly a month.

On Tuesday, one group of rebels attacked heavily fortified government defenses at Thandikulam, about 135 miles north of Colombo, while another targeted a column of soldiers pushing northward, a military official said.

The attacks were ``repulsed by troops inflicting a large number of casualties among the guerrillas,″ said Maj. N.B. Dayananda, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

A local Red Cross worker who helped evacuate the wounded said the rebels were in control of some areas of Thandikulam. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was impossible to independently verify the accounts because the government has barred journalists from the area of the fighting.

The military says more than 288 rebels have been killed and another 366 seriously wounded since the new offensive began. The guerrillas say the claim is exaggerated. The military says it has lost about 115 soldiers.

The rebels are fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils, who they say are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, who control the government and the military. The fighting has killed more than 48,000 people since 1983.

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