Sri Lanka said Sunday its troops were battling towards the jungle headquarters of the Tamil Tigers, two days after retaking their main city in a military assault that the government said would crush the guerillas once and for all.
Government soldiers consolidating their new positions in Kilinochchi, the former Tamil political base, cleared mines and booby-traps from abandoned buildings, an AFP photographer flown to the area reported.
Gunfire and intermittent artillery barrages erupted around Kilinochchi, which was captured by security forces on Friday after nearly two years of fighting.
Troops clashed with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Saturday at four locations outside the town, the ministry said.
"Both sides suffered casualties," a military official said, without giving further details.
The defence ministry said ground forces, backed by helicopter gunships and planes, were moving towards Mullaittivu, the jungle district along the northeastern seaboard, where the Tigers have their main military facilities.
Military officials said troops were also heading further north of their positions in Kilinochchi to retake the strategically vital Elephant Pass which was lost to the Tigers in 2000.
Elephant Pass lies at the entrance to the Jaffna peninsula which security forces wrested from rebel control in 1995.
Jaffna, which has a population of nearly half a million people, has previously be supplied by air and sea because the LTTE-controlled zone.
President Mahinda Rajapakse called the army's capture of Kilinochchi an "unparalleled victory" for the nation and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and end their decades-old struggle for a separate homeland.
Street celebrations took place in the capital Colombo and elsewhere as news of the town's capture broke.
The Tigers admitted losing Kilinochchi but argued that the town had been abandoned rather than captured.
"The Sri Lanka army has entered a virtual ghost town as the whole civilian infrastructure as well as the centre of the LTTE had shifted further northeast," the Tigers said through the pro-rebel Tamilnet website.