Making further thrust into the last coastal stretch held by the LTTE, Sri Lankan forces were today engaged in fierce fighting with the rebels which left 38 guerrillas dead as the Tigers deployed suicide bombers in desperate bids to stall the offensive.
The three Black Tiger bombers blew themselves up before the advancing columns leading to the death of 10 rebels and injuries to several soldiers as troops moved another 1,000 metres in the four sq km area under the LTTE control in the north, the military said.
The troops' thrust, which was slowed down by suicide bombers and heavy mining, is bringing them closer to a direct confrontation with LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and his top aides, who the military claims are now "trapped".
"The LTTE leadership, along with their second rung, remains in the small area," Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said.
As fighting intensified, Tamil Tigers accused the forces of firing artillery shells which hit the last remaining hospital in the Tiger territory, killing 49 civilians. The charge was strongly denied by the government.
Pro-LTTE website TamilNet said at least 55 patients has also sustained serious injuries on the attack on the makeshift hospital in Mullivaaykkal.