updated 2/24/2008 5:00:33 PM ET 2008-02-24T22:00:33

Clashes between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists killed at least 40 combatants across northern Sri Lanka, the military said Sunday.

Meanwhile, a suspected rebel suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up Sunday in the eastern village of Ondachimadam in Batticaloa district, killing two members of a breakaway rebel faction, the military said.

Those killed in the blast were members of the Karuna Group, which broke away from the mainstream Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group in 2004, the military said in a statement.

After breaking from the Tigers, the Karuna Group started working for the government as a paramilitary organization.

Sunday's suicide bombing indicates that small groups of rebels are still operating in Eastern province despite last year's government declaration that they had cleared the entire province of rebels.

Rebel camp bombed, military says
In other violence, battles Saturday in Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts left 39 insurgents and a soldier dead, a military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

On Sunday, air force jets bombed a camp occupied by rebel commanders in Mannar district, the military said in a statement. It did not give details of casualties or damage caused by the raid.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not respond to calls seeking comment on the military's claims. It was not possible to obtain independent accounts of the battles because reporters are barred from the war zone. Often the two sides exaggerate each other's casualty figures while underplaying their own losses.

The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site reported that insurgents killed three soldiers across the defense line in Vavuniya district. The report did not comment on the government's claim that 39 rebels were killed.

Bus blast wounds 14
As fighting raged in the north, a bus blast just south of the capital, Colombo, wounded 14 people early Saturday.

The explosion in Mount Lavinia town might have inflicted much worse damage but for the vigilance of a passenger who spotted an unattended parcel on the vehicle and alerted the driver, who stopped the bus and ordered everyone off, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.

"Within minutes the bomb exploded," said passenger Ajith Prasanna Peiris.

The bus driver, who was among the wounded, managed to move the bus several yards away from his passengers and escaped from the vehicle just before the explosion, Nanayakkara said.

Nanayakkara blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels for the bus attack. Bomb blasts blamed on the Tamil Tiger guerrillas have killed at least 19 people and wounded scores more in and around Colombo since January.

The rebels did not comment on the blast.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamils after decades of being marginalized by governments controlled by the majority ethnic Sinhalese.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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