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Sri Lankan forces close in on rebels; 23 killed

Sri Lankan government forces killed at least 18 Tamil Tiger rebels and lost five of their own soldiers as they bombarded guerrilla-held areas in the north.
/ Source: Reuters

Sri Lankan government forces killed at least 18 Tamil Tiger rebels and lost five of their own soldiers as they bombarded guerrilla-held areas in the north of the island from land, sea and air, the military said on Sunday.

The action took place as leaders of South Asian nations met in the capital Colombo to sign a pact aimed at combating terrorism and fighting hunger.

The navy attacked a Tiger camp on Iranathivu Island on Saturday, destroying a boat and killing four rebels, Navy spokesman Commander D.K.P Dassanayake said.

The military said ground troops killed 14 rebels in fighting in several northern districts also on Saturday. Five solders were killed, it said.

Defense Ministry officials said on Saturday that troops had entered the rebels' de facto capital as part of its campaign to gradually retake the Tigers' northern stronghold and win the 25-year-old war.

The Tamil Tigers are fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka for ethnic Tamils, a minority in the predominantly Sinhalese country. The war has killed more than 70,000 people since it started.

Fighting terrorism, hunger
In Colombo, leaders of the South Asian Association of Regional Corporation nations ended a summit on Sunday by signing a legal cooperation pact aimed at fighting terrorism.

They also agreed to set up a food bank to fight hunger in one of the world's poorest regions.

The association groups Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

About 19,000 extra police and soldiers were deployed in Colombo to provide security for the meeting.

The rebels had declared a 10-day unilateral truce starting from July 26 as a goodwill gesture for the summit but it was dismissed by the government.