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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tamil Rebels Take to the Air In Bloody Week in Sri Lanka

APPolice investigating the site of a bus explosion outside Colombo on Saturday.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka's separatist rebels used light aircraft to bomb an army defense line in the island's war-torn north early Sunday, hours after fierce clashes killed 42 combatants, the military said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the Tamil Tiger rebel plane dropped three bombs near Sri Lankan forces in the Welioya region, but no soldiers were hurt.

Troops and insurgents engaged in ferocious fighting along the front lines of Welioya, killing 22 insurgents and seven soldiers, Nanayakkara said. One soldier was missing.

Separate clashes Saturday along the northern Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya fronts killed 13 more rebels, he said.

It was the first attack by the rebels' air wing -- made up of a few self-assembled light aircraft -- since it helped insurgents on the ground attack a government air force base last October. The government lost eight planes in that assault.

Nanayakkara said two rebel aircraft were spotted on the radar and ground troops fired at them with anti-aircraft guns. An air force plane also chased the Tiger bomber but it escaped, he said.

On Saturday, Sri Lankan fighter jets pounded a rebel artillery position in Welioya, the military said in a statement.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not immediately available for comment Sunday.

Meanwhile, police said they arrested nine suspects in connection with a bus bombing that killed 26 passengers outside Sri Lanka's capital on Friday.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa said Saturday the blast proved the Tamil Tiger separatists were facing growing pressure on the battlefield in the north.