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Web site: Tamil rebels kill 89 Sri Lankan soldiers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Separatist Tamil rebels fought intense battles against government forces trying to advance on the militants' de facto capital in northern Sri Lanka, killing at least 89 soldiers, a rebel-affiliated Web site said Thursday.

The military disputed that death toll, saying that pitched battles in the north over the past two days had left 20 soldiers and 27 rebels dead.

The TamilNet Web site reported that heavy fighting took place Wednesday around the rebel headquarters of Kilinochchi between the guerrillas fighting and government troops trying to advance into rebel-held territory.

In the worst fighting, rebels repulsed advances by soldiers on the villages of Oottuppulam and Puthumurippu, west of Kilinochchi, killing more than 60 soldiers, the Web site reported, citing unidentified rebel officials.

Separately, heavy clashes broke out to the south of Kilinochchi, killing an additional 29 soldiers, it said.

The Web site said a dozen bodies of soldiers were recovered from the villages west of Kilinochchi along with a dozen assault rifles and ammunition.

The Web site said the rebel officials did not release their casualty details.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara dismissed the TamilNet account, saying it was an attempt to gain publicity.

Separately, the defense ministry said in a statement that soldiers fought pitched battles along the southern and western borders of Kilinochchi on Wednesday, killing 27 rebels and 20 soldiers.

Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment because communication lines to the rebel-held territory have been severed.

With reporters banned from the war zone, the media must depend on government and rebel statements for most information about the war. Each side commonly exaggerates its enemy's casualties and plays down its own.

Fighting has escalated in recent months as government troops have moved deep into rebel territory and captured a number of key bases and towns but are still locked in heavy battles at the edge of Kilinochchi.

Authorities have vowed to crush the rebels and end their 25-year campaign for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils.

The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils after decades of marginalization at the hands of successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 700,000 people have been killed in the violence.

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