Tamil rebels trapped a group of soldiers on a mined road near a northern village and killed 44 men before being forced to retreat by an air attack, military officials said Monday.

At least five rebels were killed in the 20-minute battle Sunday night, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.It was the largest number of army losses reported in a single attack since June when the rebels broke a 13-monthlong cease-fire and resumed their war for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east.