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Fifteen Tamil Tiger rebels and two soldiers were killed in fresh fighting in Sri Lanka's north, the defence ministry said yesterday.

The fighting occurred on Sunday in the Weli Oya, Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna area, and also injured 11 on both sides, the military said.

The Tamil Tigers did not comment on their casualties, but they said a taxi driver was gunned down in Jaffna on Sunday, while four people were hurt when air force jets bombed the rebel-held Killinochchi area the same day.

The defence ministry's latest claim of casualties takes the number of rebels reported killed by government troops since the beginning of the year to 4,770, against the loss of 429 soldiers.

Government figures cannot be independently verified as journalists are barred from visiting front line areas.

The latest fighting came as an accidental explosion inside a shop in Pasyala, to the north of Sri Lanka's capital, raised fears of another Tamil Tiger bomb attack.

"The shop is on fire -- we believe a gas cylinder inside the shop may have caused the explosion," a ministry spokesman said, adding one person died and three others were hurt.

Sri Lanka has been hit by a string of suspected Tamil Tiger bomb attacks in and around the capital in recent weeks.

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