Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels say at least 12 government soldiers and four rebel fighters have been killed in a fierce gunbattle in eastern Batticaloa district.

The military says Friday fighting erupted when rebels attacked troops on patrol in the area. Several soldiers are reported to be missing.

The Red Cross says it will coordinate the return of the bodies on Saturday.

Earlier, one sailor was killed and another one wounded in sniper fire from suspected Tamil rebels in the northeastern district of Trincomalee.

On Thursday, three soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels in northern Vavuniya district. Four rebels were killed in another incident of fighting that rebels say erupted when government troops infiltrated their territory. The government denies its forces entered rebel-held areas.

In another development, Sri Lankan nationalists protested today in Colombo, demanding the arrest of Tamil rebel spokesman Velayudam Dayanidi. He is receiving hospital treatment in the capital city.

Dayanidi, better known as Daya Master, is being treated for a heart condition. He is under heavy police protection.