COLOMBO, Nov 27 (Reuters) Thirteen civilians were killed by a Sri Lankan military mine in rebel-held Killinochchi today, the Tamil Tigers said, hours before the rebel leadership is due to issue its annual policy statement.
The military denied the charge.
The blast in rebel-held Kilinochchi is the latest claimed action in intensified fighting between government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.
The military is on alert for possible rebel attacks during the Tigers' ''heroes' week'' celebrations, set to end today after shadowy rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who lives in hiding, makes his annual policy statement.
''Thirteen civilians including 11 school children were killed by a Sri Lanka army deep penetration unit claymore attack in Iyankilam in (the) west of Kilinochchi,'' Selvy Navaruban, Tiger spokeswomen on humanitarian issues and human rights, told Reuters by phone.
The rebels said the civilians were participating in heroes' week celebrations when the military unit exploded the claymore fragmentation mine. The rebels often use such mines against government forces.
The military denied it had units operating in the rebel-held area or was responsible for the explosion.
''How can we go to Kilinochchi. It's not possible. They must have done it,'' said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, adding it was either a rebel mine or set off by some other group. He did not elaborate.
There was no independent confirmation. Military analysts say both sides exaggerate enemy losses and play down their own.
The Tigers, say they are fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east.
Now the fighting is concentrated in the north after the military evicted Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year from jungle terrain they controlled in the east.
Around 5,000 people have been killed in fighting between the military and the LTTE since early 2006. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the war erupted in 1983.
REUTERS RJ VC1812