Sri Lanka's navy destroyed two separatist Tamil Tiger boats during a pre-dawn clash off the country's east coast yesterday, killing at least 12 insurgents, an official said.
The rebels said three fighters were killed but claimed they repelled the navy attack.
The sea clash broke out after the navy spotted a cluster of rebel boats off the coast of the eastern town of Pulmoddai, about 225km northeast of the capital Colombo, military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said.
The cluster included 10 large boats, 12 small vessels and four ships that the military described as suicide boats -- small, motorized boats used to ram into naval vessels.
The insurgents opened fire and the naval boats retaliated, destroying and sinking two of the larger boats and killing 12 rebels, Samarasinghe said.
Two sailors suffered minor injuries in the attacks, he said.
Tamil Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan disputed the military claims and said the clash lasted three hours after which the Sri Lankan navy, "unable to face resistance, fell back to the Trincomalee harbor."
Trincomalee is an eastern coastal town with a natural harbor and a strategic naval base south of Pulmoddai.
Ilanthirayan conceded, however, that three fighters from the rebels' sea wing had been killed.
Both sides regularly dispute death tolls, each claiming to have inflicted greater casualties.
One rebel was killed in a separate gunbattle in Trincomalee on Friday night, Samarasinghe said.
The firefight broke out when a group of rebels attacked soldiers on foot patrol. Troops later found the body of one rebel, and there were no military casualties, he said.
No immediate comment from the Tigers was available.
The Tamil Tigers rebels have fought government troops since 1983 for an independent homeland in the north and east for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority after decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
In 2002 Norway brokered a ceasefire between the government and the rebels, which has all but fallen apart.
The ceasefire officially remains in place, although the fighting has worsened.
Both sides insist they respect the truce and are only responding to the other's aggression.
The government has already ousted insurgents from bases in eastern Sri Lanka, and officials say they plan to make a push soon into the rebels' heartland in the north, where they run a mini-state complete with border guards, schools and traffic police.
At least 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 ceasefire. Air raids, bus bombings, suicide attacks and jungle clashes have left an estimated 4,000 more dead since December 2005.
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