Security forces shot dead at least six Tamil Tiger rebels during a confrontation in Sri Lanka's restive eastern province, officials said on Thursday.
The troops and a group of fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) clashed near Poonani on Wednesday night and security forces recovered the bodies of six Tigers, a military official in the area said.
The clash came as Sri Lanka's army chief vowed to drive out Tiger rebels from the island's east as dozens of civilians fled their shelters on Wednesday amid a lull in long-range attacks.
The commander of the army, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, said the military had captured two guerrilla defence lines inside their Vakarai stronghold, according to the state-run Dinamina newspaper.
"The people will be liberated from the Tigers very soon and the Tigers will be driven out of the eastern province," Fonseka said in an interview with the Sinhalese-language daily.
He said between 350 and 400 Tigers had been killed in the clashes in the Vakarai area in the past few days, but did not mention any military losses.
His remarks were published as the number of people seeking refuge in the northeastern district of Trincomalee rose to 4,500 from 3,300 over the weekend, local officials said.
The Tamil Tigers are fighting for independence for the island's minority 2.5 million Tamil community in the majority-Sinhalese nation of 19.5 million people, where more than 3,500 people have been killed in the past year.
The bitter ethnic conflict has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.