Conflicting claims in Vanni fighting
[TamilNet, Thursday, 18 June 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Thirty five Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers and 4 officers have been killed and 2 officers and 79 soldiers have been wounded in fighting between 11 and 17 June, in the forward areas of Operation Jayasikurui, said SLA Brig. Sarath Munasinghe at a weekly press briefing held in Colombo today.
He also said that, according to the Army's information, 59 Liberation Tigers had been killed and 200 wounded during the same period.
Six Tigers were killed yesterday in two separate incidents in the Jayasikurui forward areas, he added.
Brig. Munasinghe also said that Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) jets attacked Tiger positions north of Olumadu yesterday around 2 p.m. LTTE casualties are not yet known, he said.
Tamil ex-militant sources, when contacted by TamilNet's European correspondent, said that there had been fighting to the east of Mankulam.
14 SLA soldiers and 2 officers were killed in the fighting yesterday near Olumadu, east of Mankulam junction they said. The body of one the dead SLA soldiers was recovered by the LTTE following the fighting, and was handed over to the ICRC today, they said.
7 SLAF personnel travelling in a jeep in Puthur, an interior village south-west of Mankulam, were killed yesterday noon, when the jeep hit a claymore mine, said the sources.
The sources also said that during a clash near Mankulam last weekend, 16 SLA soldiers were killed and 40 others wounded.
An LTTE press release today said that an SLA advance in Ampakamam had been repulsed and the recovered body of an SLA soldier had been handed over to the ICRC. "LTTE lost one fighter", the press release said.
Brigadier Munasinghe told journalists today that he could not reveal the exact situation regarding the fighting in the Mankulam sector at present. He said, however, that the troops are approaching Mankulam.
However, ex-militant sources claimed that the SLA had not moved into new areas in the Vanni, but was consolidating its earlier held positions in the general area of Mankulam.
During the SLA press conference, journalists asked Brig. Munasinghe several questions in an effort to elicit more material for copy, given the news blackout due to censorship. However, he declined to answer many of the questions.
One journalist asked whether the Brigadier could confirm a rumour that the Tigers are using Surface-to-Air Missiles. Another asked the Brigadier to comment on whether the SLA had recovered modern weapons in Mannar. The Brigadier did not answer any of these questions.
Last week, the Sri Lankan Deputy Defence Minister said that between May 24 and June 8, 208 SLA soldiers, including 10 officers were killed while 1536 soldiers, including 55 officers, had been wounded. The Minister also said that 'intercepted radio communications indicate that 225 Tigers were killed and 600 injured in the same period.'
The Sri Lankan government has imposed strict censorship on the reporting of military action. This, combined with the ban on correspondents entering the war zone has made it impossible to independently verify events taking place there.