The defence ministry said on Monday: "An east LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] intelligence leader identified as Irakkian and a training instructor were among the dead."

The air force, using Israeli-built Kfir and Russian-made supersonic Mig jet fighters, conducted air sorties against suspected rebel targets in the Thoppigala jungle, the ministry said, adding that more than a dozen LTTE soldiers were injured.

There was no immediate comment from the LTTE, who have been fighting for a separate state for minority Tamils since 1972.

Elsewhere, in the northern province of Mannar, Tiger rebels handed over the body of a Sri Lankan soldier to the Red Cross on Monday. The military said the soldier was abducted on Sunday while guarding the forward defence line.

The killings came as charities operating in the embattled east expressed serious concern for the safety of civilians in the Batticaloa district, where there are more than 120,000 refugees.

On Monday, the government said more than 40,000 people had fled their homes in recent days following shelling between the Tamil Tigers and government troops in the Batticaloa district, adding to the 80,000 who have already been internally displaced.

On Tuesday, the Tiger's website reported that 100,000 people had moved out of Tiger controlled areas after the third day of shelling and that the forced migration was part of the army's strategy to capture Tiger territory.

More than 4,000 people have been killed amid an upsurge in fighting since December 2005, despite the two sides agreeing to a Norwegian-brokered truce to halt the conflict in February 2002.