Troops crossed into rebel-held territory in northern Sri Lanka early Tuesday and attacked a Tamil Tiger bunker with grenades and rockets, killing four separatist fighters, the military said.
The attack came hours before Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was scheduled to make his annual Hero's Day speech. The location of the reclusive leader was unknown.
The annual speech, which falls on Prabhakaran's birthday and caps a week of ceremonies commemorating slain rebels, is carefully dissected by the government and international observers for clues as to the rebel group's future plans.
In his speech last year, Prabhakaran declared a 2002 cease-fire defunct amid a new round of fighting between the rebels and the government. Since then, the government has seized control of eastern Sri Lanka from the rebels for the first time in 13 years and fighting has raged along the frontiers of the Tamil Tigers' de facto state in the north.
Though the rebels routinely step up attacks during the commemorations, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said no special security precautions had been taken.
The rebel group has been fighting since 1983 to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka 's minority Tamil ethnic group in the country's north and east in a war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.
At 4:25 a.m. Tuesday, a small group of soldiers cross over the front lines near Muhamalai on the Jaffna peninsula north of rebel-held territory, killed four rebels and destroyed a bunker that was used to launch attacks on government forces, Nanayakkara said.
In other violence, suspected rebels with handguns shot and killed two Tamil civilians Monday night in Jaffna , he said. The cause for the killing was unknown, he said.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer repeated calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
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