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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 12:02 GMT

World: South Asia

Troops rushed to Sri Lanka battleground

Large numbers of military reinforcements have been sent to Sri Lanka's northeast, after separatist rebels captured two army bases in the area.

The government says it has lost control of the military complexes at Oddusudan and Nedunkerni, both situated near the frontline.

Susannah Price in Colombo: "Top military commanders assessing the situation"
Heavy fighting continues in the region as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched an assault on a third military complex in Kanagarayankulam.

Troops are now being sent to Kanagarayankulam and other bases to fortify the forward defence lines.

"After heavy confrontations, security forces have fallen back tactically to areas south of Oddusudan and Nedunkerni," the defence ministry said.

The ministry said 107 security personnel were killed along with 115 LTTE rebels. But military sources said the casualty figure could be much higher.

Tamil Tiger spokesman Anton Raja: "A major military achievement"
An LTTE spokesman told the BBC that Tuesday's attacks on Nedunkerni and Oddusudan had left the army in "total disarray".

Anton Raja said: "The Sri Lankan Government has taken a severe blow in its military strategy to capture the Tamil homeland.

"The armed forces are in total disarray. They have burned their positions and fled into the jungle."

He said more than 1,000 Sri Lankan soldiers had been killed or wounded in the fighting compared with just 40 Tamil casualties.

The rebels' Voice of Tiger radio station - monitored in the northern town of Vavuniya - said the insurgents had captured artillery, armoured cars and other weapons from the army.

It said the onslaught, codenamed "Ceaseless Waves Three", was planned and directed by the Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Strategic towns

Both Oddusudan and Nedunkerni are strategically located west of the LTTE stronghold of Mullaitivu, on Sri Lanka's north-eastern coast.

[ image:  ]
The attack on Oddusudan was reported to have been carefully planned, beginning late on Monday night with Tamil Tiger rebels using mortars and grenades.

Forward defences were breached in two places and many troops stranded as communication was cut off.

After hours of heavy fighting, the Tigers broke through and planted their flag in the camp, before moving south to Nedunkerni.

The attacks followed heavy fighting between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan army over the weekend.

Recent government offences in the area have had some limited success.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo says the heavy monsoon rains could have lulled the army into a false sense of security, as traditionally the fighting is less intense during this season.

Last year, the Tigers overran the army camp in Kilinochchi and in 1996 they took the eastern Navy base at Mullaitivu.

Government troops captured Oddusudan from the rebels last December.

Electoral setback

The attacks have come as a serious embarrassment for the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga, soon after she called for fresh presidential elections.

They are expected to strengthen the hand of those who opposed efforts to negotiate a settlement to the conflict with the Tigers.

The Tigers are fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east. More than 55,000 people have been killed in fighting since 1983.

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