Colombo, Sri Lanka (BBN)- At least 38 Tamil Tiger rebels and 14 government troops were killed in fresh fighting in the country’s restive northern region ahead of SAARC summit, the military said on Saturday.

Leaders and senior officials of eight South Asian countries and representatives of the designated observer-countries from across the world gathered in the capital for the 15th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that began on the day.

SAARC, the single-largest group in the world having a fourth of the world population, comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The fresh fighting took place throughout on Friday as army troops pushed into rebel-held territory and attacked in the Vavuniya, Mannar and Welioya regions, a senior defense official confirmed.

Meanwhile, helicopter and gunships were deployed to provide cover for ground troops engaged in the battle with the rebels in the island’s north, according to the defense ministry.

On the other hand,, a pro-rebel website, reported quoting Tamil Tigers that at least 30 government troops were killed and injured another 60 in an intense fighting.

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-02Agugudt08-3:27 PM