COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan troops beat back an assault by separatist rebels Sunday, killing 300 guerrillas and dealing rebel forces their worst military setback so far this year.
Twenty soldiers were killed and another 80 wounded in the five-hour battle near Kilinochchi, about 165 miles north of Colombo, a military spokesman said.
Government ground forces were supported by air and artillery strikes, an army statement issued in Colombo said.
The surprise attack by Tamil Tiger rebels came three days after the government held local elections in the Jaffna peninsula, the Tamil heartland, aimed at giving moderate Tamils a measure of political control.
The rebels tried unsuccessfully to sabotage the balloting, which was dominated by former guerrillas who have laid down their weapons.
The elections, together with Sunday’s attack, have stiffened the government’s determination to wipe out the guerrillas altogether.
“We are now determined to go ahead and finish off the terrorists in the battlefield,” Deputy Foreign Minister Lakshman Kiriella told The Associated Press.
“We are now convinced that no way do they want a settlement by peaceful means,” he said.
The rebels among Sri Lankan Tamils want an independent homeland on the Jaffna peninsula, saying they are discriminated by the majority Sinhalese, who control the military and the government.
More than 51,000 people have been killed in the rebellion since 1983.