Colombo, Sri Lanka (BBN)- At least 21 Tamil Tiger rebels and a security force were killed in fresh fighting in the country’s restive northern region, the military said on Sunday.

The fighting occurred on Saturday in different parts of the north, included naval troops killing four rebels and destroying one guerilla boat around the government-controlled Jaffna peninsula.

The figures raise to 5,496 the number of rebels killed by troops since January, while 496 soldiers have died in action over the same period, according to the defense ministry.

It was not possible to independently verify the military’s claims because media are banned from the northern jungles where much of the fighting takes place.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels have been battling for an independent homeland since 1972 in an ethnic conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

BBN/SI/SI/AD-August08-1:59 AM