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Sri Lanka clashes take heavy toll

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- The Sri Lankan army said 28 soldiers were killed and 119 were wounded while battling the Tamil Tiger rebels in Jaffna, located in the northern tip of the country, late Saturday evening, Sri Lanka police inspector Percy Perera said.

An estimated 150 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels were also killed, with more wounded, Perera said.

The exact number of wounded was not immediately available, he said.

The fighting flared during the army's operation to control the area of Muhamalai in Jaffna. Soldiers have been working to de-mine the area and the operation is ongoing.

Hundreds of civilians, troops and Tiger fighters have been killed in the past months, with both blaming the other for disregarding a 2002 cease-fire agreement.

Earlier in the week, the Sri Lanka military said troops backed by artillery and airpower seized the key rebel enclave of Sampur, near the port of Trincomalee.

Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said Saturday that government forces pounded rebel-held territory in the north with air strikes and artillery after the Tigers stepped up their attacks on government troops.

"The (rebels) began attacking us with artillery fire on Thursday. We have been retaliating since then. This is a limited operation to neutralize their artillery bases," Samarasinghe told The Associated Press.

The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site said the military has been shelling rebel bunkers in Muhamalai for two days. It said there were no rebel casualties, AP reported.

Since 1983, the rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland for 3.2 million predominantly Hindu Tamils. The Tamils say they have suffered decades of discrimination by the dominant 14 million Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhist.

The conflict killed an estimated 65,000 people before the 2002 cease-fire. Hundreds of combatants and civilians have been killed and about 220,000 displaced since April, when fighting intensified again.

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Government soldiers move along the coast near Sampur in northern Sri Lanka.

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