COLOMBO (AFP) — Two bombs left at least eight civilians dead in guerrilla-held territory in northern Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels said Thursday as the defence ministry reported killing nine militants.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said Sri Lanka's military had infiltrated the area and carried out two roadside bomb attacks Wednesday.
Civilians were travelling in tractor-trailers when they were targeted by the military, the separatists said in a statement.
"Two Claymore attacks by the Sri Lanka Deep Penetration unit within five hours... killed eight civilians," it said. "In both incidents the victims were travelling in tractor-trailers to work in the paddy (rice) fields."
Sri Lanka's military routinely denies carrying out such bombings inside LTTE-held territory in the north, but authorities in Colombo stepped up security amid fears of retaliatory strikes.
Earlier this month, the Tigers made similar allegations against the military, holding it responsible for a string of attacks that killed scores of civilians, including children.
The rebel charges were followed by bomb attacks against civilians in Sinhalese areas of the country, for which the military blamed the Tigers.
The latest accusations came as fighting raged along the front lines of the de facto LTTE mini-state and airforce fighter jets bombed a suspected rebel artillery command centre in the island's north.
There was no immediate word from the LTTE on the air strikes.
In the eastern Batticaloa district, police commandos shot dead one rebel Thursday and recovered small arms ammunition, the defence ministry said.
Elsewhere, nine LTTE cadres were killed in Wednesday's clashes, the ministry said, raising the number of Tigers killed by security forces on Tuesday to 24 from an earlier estimate of 13.
According to the defence ministry, 1,661 rebels have been killed so far this year. The military estimated the Tigers' strength at the beginning of the year at 3,000 and revised it to 5,000 combatants this month.
The ministry says 94 soldiers and police have also been killed in 2008.
Casualty figures provided by both sides differ vastly and cannot be independently verified. The government bars journalists and human rights workers from front line and rebel-held areas.
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