updated 4/13/2008 2:40:03 AM ET 2008-04-13T06:40:03

Fierce fighting between government forces and Tamil separatists across Sri Lanka's war-ravaged northern region has killed dozens of rebels and soldiers, according to the military and rebels.

The military said soldiers killed at least 40 Tamil rebels in fighting Saturday along the northern front lines, while the rebels said 30 soldiers were killed in the clashes.

Reports of fighting have increased in recent months amid government promises to capture the rebels' de facto state in the north and crush the group by the end of the year. But diplomats and other observers say the army is facing more resistance than it had expected.

In the latest offensive on Saturday, infantry troops moved into Mannar district backed by artillery and mortar fire, said a military spokesman, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.

In the worst battle, soldiers pushed into Tamil Tiger-held territory in the north after a fierce, daylong battle killed 30 guerrillas and seven soldiers, the military said Saturday. Fifty-one guerrillas and 26 soldiers were wounded, he said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, however, said 30 soldiers died and 75 were wounded, while only three rebels were killed, according to a statement from spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan.

Meanwhile, the military said scattered battles elsewhere in the north on Saturday killed 10 more rebels and wounded 11 soldiers.

There was no comment from rebels on that fighting.

It was not possible to independently verify either side's claim because journalists are barred from the conflict zone. Both sides commonly exaggerate their enemies' casualties while underplaying their own.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils, who were marginalized for decades by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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