The Red Cross evacuated foreigners from Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna Peninsula and distributed aid there yesterday after a two-week siege, but the army said a bomb that was left by withdrawing rebels killed six soldiers.
The fighting between Tamil Tiger rebels and government forces, the first ground battles since a 2002 ceasefire, has displaced more than 200,000 people and shortages are rising with a half million people in Jaffna cut off from essential supplies.
A Red Cross cargo ship that arrived off Jaffna on Thursday night began unloading about 1,500 tonnes of food, the first shipment since fighting blocked road access two weeks ago.
A ferry also bearing the Red Cross flag was due to load the first 150 of an estimated 500 people, mostly aid staff and other foreign nationals who are to be evacuated from the peninsula to the northeastern port of Trincomalee. They will later be taken to the capital.
Intermittent artillery fire could be heard in Jaffna overnight.
The military said rebels had withdrawn from some previously captured army positions but had left an improvised bomb.
"The troops were consolidating the position and checking," said army spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarsinghe.
"A soldier just put his foot on it and it exploded. Six are dead, four wounded," he said.
Army-held Jaffna lies on the northern tip of the island and is cut off from the rest of the country by rebel territory. During the truce, however, goods were allowed across.
The historical capital of Sri Lankan Tamils, Jaffna has changed hands several times in two decades of civil war and controlling it is seen as a key Tiger goal in their fight for a separate Tami