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Wednesday, September 30, 1998
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477 LTTE men, 262 troops killed

COLOMBO, Sept 29 (UNI) — A bloody offensive by the Tamil Tiger militants led by their supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, on a broad from in northern Sri Lanka has left 262 government troops and 477 rebels dead, officials said.

The navy and the army were also searching around the north-western Mannar district for an aircraft of a domestic airlines carrying 54 persons on board which went missing while on a flight from the embattled Jaffna peninsula to the capital, Colombo.

A military statement late tonight said heavy fighting around Paranthan and Killinochchi for the third straight day today had left 377 rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including 55 women, and more than 200 soldiers, dead.

It said 100 more rebels and 62 soldiers were killed when troops resumed an offensive to capture a vital highway in the region amid stiff resistance from the militants.

It said troops had captured the southern and eastern parts of the heavily fortified Mankulam town from the rebels and destroyed their strong points on a stretch of road southwards from Mankulam to Kanagarayanakulam.

Security officials said most of the troops' losses resulted after an ammunition dump at Kanagarayanakulam blew up when it was hit by LTTE mortar fire.

Informed sources in Madras said the LTTE had recaptured Killinochchi, which fell to the army in 1996, and pushed the troops northwards to Paranthan.

They had made Killinochchi their political headquarters after the security forces drove them out their former bastion of Jaffna peninsula.

This would be a major blow for the government campaign against the Tamil Tigers, they said.

The sources said the LTTE rebels were continuing their attacks on the troops who had withdrawn towards Paranthan.

Earlier, the LTTE's clandestine radio said LTTE had lost 240 fighters and claimed to have killed "hundreds" of soldiers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it expected to receive the bodies of the slain soldiers tomorrow.

But an ICRC spokesman here declined to confirm or deny reports that the rebels would hand over up to 500 bodies of soldiers.

"Till we go to the place and receive the bodies, we cannot say anything", he said, adding that the bodies would have to be transported by trucks.

The rebel Voice of Tigers Radio said the LTTE attack on army defence lines was personally led by their elusive supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The civilian aircraft went missing on a flight to Colombo from the embattled Jaffna peninsula, security officials said.

The AN-24 plane, owned by Lionair, took off from the Palali air force base in Jaffna with 54 persons on board, including six crew members, at 1.45 p m local time but lost contact with the control tower shortly after, the sources said.

A Lionair employee confirmed the flight was missing. "It was supposed to land at 3.45, but it has not landed", she said.


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