He denied earlier military reports which said the civilians were killed when an Israeli-built Kfir jet accidentally dropped a bomb on Muttur jetty while attacking suspected Tamil Tiger positions in the northeast.
The pro-rebel Tamilnet website reported 12 other civilians died when government warplanes struck the rebel-held Sampur area late Tuesday in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed 10 and wounded 30, including the army chief.
"Groups of people searching for casualties in Tuesday's attacks said at least 12 bodies of Tamil civilians were recovered so far," it said. "The death toll is expected to increase."
A large number of injured were seeking treatment in Sampur hospital.
It was not immediately clear if the military air strikes caused other dama