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Sri Lanka stopped mobile phone services for nearly half a million users in the island`s embattled east as government troops were locked in combat with Tiger rebels, an official said on Thursday.

Troops battling Tamil Tigers have asked telecom operators to switch off their networks to prevent guerrillas making use of mobile phone services for military operations.

“It`s a routine request whenever a major operation takes place,” Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director General, Kanchana Ratwatte, told media persons today.

The military began Wednesday to secure areas captured from Tamil Tiger rebels in the volatile east where fierce clashes for control of territory a day earlier left at least 16 dead, an official said.

The military said it lost four soldiers and that 29 more were wounded during the battle for a stretch of rebel-held-land in eastern Batticaloa district Tuesday, while the rebels said 12 of their fighters were killed and seven wounded.

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