updated 11/24/2008 9:49:37 AM ET 2008-11-24T14:49:37

Sri Lanka's military said Monday that 120 Tamil Tiger rebels and 27 soldiers were killed in the latest battle for control of the insurgents' de facto capital in the north of the country.

The military said in a statement that its troops destroyed rebel defenses and breached huge earth barriers Sunday and were moving toward the rebel headquarters in Kilinochchi.

The military said rebels counterattacked at several points, sparking fierce battles that killed 120 guerrillas and 27 soldiers.

Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment, but a pro-rebel Web site, TamilNet, reported that 43 Sri Lankan soldiers had been killed. The site did not report any rebel deaths.

Both sides routinely inflate their tallies of casualties on the opposing side, and it is not possible to verify the battle reports because journalists are barred from the war zone.

TamilNet quoted unnamed rebel officials as saying the soldiers were killed Sunday in a clash in Nalloor village of the rebel-held Kilinochchi district. The rebels took away the bodies of eight soldiers, the report said.

The report said the aim of the soldiers in the Sunday clash had been to march from Pooneryn, a recently seized former rebel stronghold, toward a key junction nearby, to pave the way for a fresh front to capture the rebel headquarters of Kilinochchi. Other groups of soldiers are trying to reach Kilinochchi from the south of that town.

Rebel territory shrinks
The government has vowed to crush the rebels and end their decades-old separatist campaign. Government soldiers have in recent months captured a number of key rebel bases and large swaths of land previously controlled by the guerillas, seizing the country's entire west and forcing the insurgents into a shrinking territory in the northeast.

However the rebels have offered stiff resistance as the soldiers approach Kilinochchi.

Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese.

More than 700,000 people have been killed in the violence.

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