9:00 PM

Heavy Battles in Dwindling Area

Air force jets pounded Tamil Tiger fortifications in northern Sri Lanka - on Saturday, destroying a LTTE bunker line as fighting intensified in the country's civil war, the military said.

Heavy battles Friday across the front lines surrounding the dwindling area controlled by the rebels killed 22 guerrilla fighters, the military said in a statement Saturday.

In recent weeks, troops have broken through the rebels' defenses and seized a series of key towns and bases. Raging battles in the Kilinochchi region killed nine rebel fighters, the military said. Fighting in Vavuniya, Welioya, Mullaittivu and Jaffna killed another 13, the military said.

As the troops advanced on the rebels' main power base in Kilinochchi on Saturday morning, air force jets supported them by striking and destroying a line of rebel bunkers east of the town of Nachchikuda, said air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara.

LTTE spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls for comment.

Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because most journalists are barred from the war zone.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent state in the north and east since 1983, following decades of marginalization of ethnic Tamils by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.