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Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 06:57 GMT

World: South Asia

Sri Lankan army changes top brass

Morale is flagging among the Sri Lankan troops

By Susannah Price in Colombo

Major changes have been made in the highest levels of the Sri Lankan military following a series of demoralising defeats by Tamil Tiger separatists in the north-east.

Among those being replaced are the commander of the Vanni area, where fighting is continuing, and his colleague in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The main priority for the security forces is to put an immediate halt to the Tigers' continuing advance on their army bases.

The restructuring of the army command is aimed at stabilising the deteriorating situation and boosting the flagging morale of troops.

[ image: The Tigers have regained a large proportion of land taken by the army]
The Tigers have regained a large proportion of land taken by the army
The heavy artillery duels and fierce fighting are continuing for a sixth day as the Sri Lankan army attempts to stop the Tigers' southward march. There was heavy fighting during the night near the key base of Puliyankulam, which the Tigers said they had captured.

However the army said it still has soldiers in the town. The commanders are still faced with reports of large numbers of soldiers deserting the battlefield.

Residents in the largest government-held town in the area, Vavuniya, 20km south of the new frontline, said they had heard the sound of shelling during the night.

However life in Vavuniya is said to be continuing as normal, with civilians celebrating the Hindu festival of light, called Diwali.

Army 'overstretched'

The Tigers have now regained a large proportion of the land taken by the army during its 19-month offensive called Operation Jayasikuru, or Victory Assured, which was abandoned last December.

The rebels have called on civilians not to go to the recaptured areas because of the large amount of unexploded ordnance there.

Analysts are now asking whether the Tigers' string of victories was possible because the army was overstretched in holding onto recent gains.

It has been suggested that politicians have been applying pressure on the army to take more territory than it could adequately defend.

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