Tamil rebels fighting for an independent homeland hacked and shot to death at least 44 sleeping villagers, including women and children, in northern Sri Lanka, officials said Monday.

The attack, the worst in the past year, occurred on the eve of the first anniversary of the arrival of Indian troops to Sri Lanka.A military official in Colombo said about 75 Tamil rebels attacked the village of Ulukulama, about 150 miles northeast of the capital, on Sunday night and killed 44 people, including 13 women and 18 children.

At least four people were seriously injured and 11 homes were set on fire during the attack on the sleeping villagers, said the official, who cannot be identified under briefing rules.