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Fighting breaks out in Sri Lanka

From CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji

Top Tiger commander Vellupillai Prabhakaran inspects troops.

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Sri Lanka
Guerrilla Activities
Civil Unrest
Tamil Tigers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- At least eight fighters are dead and five wounded after a battle broke out between two rival factions of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

It is the first outbreak of fighting since rebels and the Sri Lankan government signed a cease-fire in 2002, a rebel source said.

The fighting between the two Tamil factions, which split last month, was in the eastern part of the island along the Verugal River, which has become the de facto border between the two groups.

In early March, a Tamil commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, broke away from the main rebel army, taking more than a third of its 15,000 fighters.

Scandinavian cease-fire monitors said 30 female fighters belonging to the breakaway group have been detained by the main rebel faction.

The Tigers do not tolerate dissent and usually kill anyone who challenges their top commander Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

The rebels have waged a violent 20-year guerilla war against the Sri Lankan government that has left more than 65,000 people dead.

The Sri Lankan army has a large presence near the river, and could easily be drawn into any conflict, The Associated Press reports.

The Tigers, classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, is fighting for a homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, who are mostly Hindu, separate from the country's Sinhalese majority, who are mostly Buddhist.

In elections last week, the issue of how to handle an ongoing peace process with the Tamil rebels helped topple the government of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The new prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, is aligned with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who charged that Wickremesinghe was making too many concessions to the rebels in the peace talks.

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