COLOMBO (Reuters) - More than 200 Tamil Tiger rebels and soldiers were killed in a major battle in northern Sri Lanka, military officials said on Sunday. They said fighting broke out in the northern Kilinochchi district late on Saturday and continued until the early hours of Sunday. "We have recovered 218 LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) dead bodies," a military spokesman told Reuters. The spokesman said 20 government soldiers were killed and 86 wounded in the battle with the separatist rebels. "The army in now in complete control of the situation," he said, adding that the rebel casualty toll was likely to increase as more bodies were expected to be found in the clearing-up operation which was under way. Military officials said a big force of LTTE guerrillas had launched an attack on troops manning defences east of Paranthan in the Kilinochchi district, which lies just south of the former rebel stronghold of Jaffna peninsula. Sunday's fighting was the first major battle between the rebels and government troops reported since December last year, when 146 soldiers were killed near Mankulam, which lies on the highway the military has been trying to capture in a nine-month campaign. Government troops launched the offensive codenamed Operation Jayasikuru (Sure of Victory) in May last year and thousands of soldiers and rebels have been reported killed or wounded in the fighting since then. The highway would give the military land access to Jaffna, where all troops and supplies have currently to be transported by air or sea. LTTE rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east since 1983. The government says more than 50,000 people have been killed in the war, but LTTE put the toll higher.