Clashes broke out  between government forces and ethnic Tamil separatists across northern Sri Lanka, killing 16 rebels and two soldiers, the country's military said Tuesday.

In the worst of the fighting Monday, nine rebels were killed during a series of battles in the front-line Vavuniya district, the military said in a statement.

The military also accused the rebels of targeting a leading Buddhist monk in the north with a roadside bomb. The cleric was uninjured, the military said.

Buddhist clerics have been known in the past for their support for the island's Sinhalese majority against the mainly Hindu Tamil separatist movement.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because the media are banned from the northern jungles where much of the fighting takes place.

The military, which has promised to crush the rebels by the end of the year, also said it captured about one square kilometre of rebel-held territory in the eastern Mannar area.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.

A ceasefire and peace talks between the two sides brokered by Norway formally ended earlier this year.

 

With files from the Associated Press