COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Tamil Tiger rebels fought a five-hour gun battle with government forces in the northern Jaffna peninsula, leaving at least 27 combatants dead and nearly 100 wounded, according to government and rebel reports Tuesday.
The Monday confrontation began when troops, backed by artillery, attacked rebel positions near Jaffna, said government spokesman Ariya Rubasinghe. He said 19 government soldiers were killed and 94 were wounded.
The Voice of Tiger Radio, a rebel clandestine radio monitored in the northern town of Vavuniya, said eight guerrillas were killed and four others were wounded.
Both sides claimed victory in the battle three miles east of Jaffna city.
Rubasinghe said some government soldiers were killed and wounded as they passed through the area heavily mined by the rebels.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka since 1983. The separatist war has killed more than 62,000 people.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte said that 4,700 soldiers who had deserted the army have been rounded up from their villages in a special drive launched two weeks ago.
They will be re-inducted into the 100,000-strong army fighting Tamil rebels in the island nation’s north and east. Nearly 18,000 soldiers are listed as deserters, having never returned to work after home leave.