COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Tamil rebels today attacked and blew up a school used as an army camp, killing at least 20 soldiers and wounding about a dozen others, the government reported.
However, local journalists and some military officials said 27 soldiers were killed, and the rebels claimed the deaths exceeded 30. None of the reports could be independently verified.
The attack occurred Sunday in the Jaffna Peninsula on the northern tip of this south Asian island nation. The fighting was the heaviest in the region since the army wrested much of the area from Tamil rebels in June. The Tamils have vowed to recapture the lost ground.
In Madras, southern India, a rebel spokesman said the guerrillas broke defense bunkers at the army's Neliaddy Central College in Neliaddy, 15 miles northeast of the town of Jaffna, and brought down a three-story building in six hours of battle with high explosives, mortars, rockets and heavy machine guns.
Fighting at the school began late Sunday and ended at about 2:15 a.m. today, the spokesman said.
"This is a massive counteroffensive preparatory to wresting control of the entire region from troops," said Anton S. Balasingham, a spokesman for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the largest Tamil militia.
The various Tamil rebel groups have headquarters in southern India, which is home to about 50 million Tamils.
A military official in Colombo, who could not be identified under briefing rules, said a search was under way for more bodies in the collapsed school.
But Balasingham said the guerrillas blocked army efforts to recapture the camp and rescue soldiers trapped there. He said fighting raged all day in the region.
The Vadamarachchi region, where the army school is located, covers about one-quarter of the Jaffna Peninsula. It was seized in an offensive ending June 1 that was the army's most successful action in the 4-year-old Tamil civil war.