Sri Lankan troops ambushed a group of Tamil Tiger rebels riding on tractors in the nation's violence-wracked east, killing 15 people, the military said yesterday.
The attack, which occurred near the eastern area of Thoppigala on Friday evening, came hours after rebels killed six government soldiers in the region in a mortar attack.
Government forces have cleared the Tamil Tiger guerrillas from much of eastern Sri Lanka, but have been struggling to seize the eastern rebel bastion of Thoppigala for 14 years.
The army began what it called a final push into the area in late April and said recently it hoped to rout the rebels by early next week. However, previous claims of imminent victory have proven premature.
In other violence, insurgents attacked soldiers in the northern Vavuniya district on Friday, but troops fought back and killed two of the guerrillas, a Defense Ministry official said yesterday, refusing to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Hours later, soldiers observed armed rebels moving across a defensive line in the northeastern Welioya region and fired mortar shells at them, killing two insurgents, the official said.
The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of discrimination by majority Sinhalese-controlled governments.
The fighting in the east began about noon on Friday with the mortar attack on the soldiers.
Assassinations, airstrikes and clashes have killed more than 5,000 people in the past 20 months, and have taken the death toll in two decades of violence past 70,000.