COLOMBO (AFP) - The government forces and Tamil separatists were locked in heavy combat in northern Sri Lanka with at least 41 rebels and five soldiers killed in fresh fighting, the defence ministry said Thursday. At least 30 government soldiers were also wounded following the latest clashes with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement. "The LTTE continues to steadily lose manpower as the Sri Lankan security forces continue to advance further into the heart of the LTTE administrative power, Kilinochchi," the ministry said. "This is a major setback for the terrorists." The military has said that it wants to dismantle the Tigers' de facto mini-state by capturing the town of Kilinochchi, 330 kilometres north of Colombo. The government troops were now said to be within striking distance. The military on Wednesday evening accepted the bodies of 19 soldiers killed by the Tigers during this week's fighting that saw security forces capture the strategic town on Mallavi from the rebels. The ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government has asked tens of thousands of Tamil civilians living in rebel territory to cross over to government-held areas in the island's north to avoid getting caught up in the crossfire. The latest casualty figures raise the number of rebels reported killed by the troops since Jan to 6,333. The military says 609 soldiers were killed during the same period while tens of thousands have died on both sides of the conflict in more than three decades of bloodshed.