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Fresh fighting in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka
Civil Unrest

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Tamil rebels struck the main military base at Palaly in northern Jaffna Friday, marking the first time rebels have targeted military headquarters during the four-and-a-half-year cease-fire between Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil Tigers.

Security forces conduct all military operations against rebels on the northern Jaffna peninsula.

Earlier, government troops were locked in a battle of artillery and mortar fire with Tamil rebels at the Muhamalai checkpoint, known as the gateway from government-controlled areas to the rebel-held Wanni area.

Civilians in Wanni said rebel groups are urging civilians living close to military camps to vacate their homes and move at least a kilometer away.

Journalist Iqbal Athas reported that all telephone communication in the area has been cut off.

The latest fighting between Tamil Tigers and government troops prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a statement calling on the Tamil Tiger political group, LTTE, to renounce terrorism and return to political negotiations.

The Tamil minority has fought for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka for decades in a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Nearly 8 percent of Sri Lanka's estimated 19 million citizens are Tamils.

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