Tamil guerrillas fought off thousands of Sri Lankan troops as government forces tried to surround a key northern town on Thursday. At least 46 soldiers were killed.
As many as 311 fighters have been killed on both sides in the last three days, as rebels rained mortar and machine-gun fire on two columns of troops advancing on Puliyankulam in the northern Jaffna peninsula.
The military has sent in 20,000 soldiers to carve out a land route to Jaffna, which can only be reached by air or sea. The offensive began May 13 and has left more than 2,000 dead.
At least 46 soldiers were killed in Thursday’s fighting and 262 were wounded, military officials said. Details on rebel casualties were not available.
It is impossible to obtain independent confirmation of the fighting because the government has banned reporters from the area, 130 miles north of the capital, Colombo.
Government troops seized the Jaffna peninsula from the Tamil rebels last year in a bloody battle that left 2,500 people dead. But the only land route to Jaffna remains in rebel hands. Soldiers have captured only a quarter of the 45-mile road so far.
The rebels want to carve out a Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. They say Tamils, who account for 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 18 million people, are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, who control the government and military.