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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 15:53 GMT

World: South Asia

Tigers attack government-held town

The fighting has spread apprehension among civilians in the area

Artillery shells fired by Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have killed one person and injured three others in the government-held town of Vavuniya.

The assault came a day after the mainly Tamil residents of Vavuniya began returning to the town following what was believed to be the abandonment of a planned Tiger attack.

Jannat Jalil in Colombo: "There has been intense fighting in the northwest"
The BBC's Jannat Jalil in Colombo says it is the first time that shells have fallen in Vavuniya since the Tiger offensive began earlier this month.

And in heavy fighting in the northwest, the Tigers say they have captured four military outposts at Palampiddi, Peria Madu, Thatch Anamaradamadu and Palamaddhu.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
  • An unwinnable war?
  • Timeline of conflict
  • Leading the Tigers
  • The ethnic divide
  • The town of Madu houses a famous Catholic shrine.

    Correspondents say the Tigers' latest success potentially threatens the Sri Lankan army's control of the main road leading from the coastal town of Mannar to the key outpost in Vavuniya.

    Click here to see a map of the warzone

    The defence ministry said 33 Tiger rebels had been killed in the fighting at Palampiddi and 36 government soldiers injured.

    Return to Vavuniya

    In a broadcast on the clandestine Tiger radio earlier this week, the rebels said they had called off the attack on Vavuniya because of the difficulties faced by civilians.

    Father Navaratnam describes the situation on the ground in the garrison town of Vavuniya
    Government officials in Vavuniya said many of the residents had returned and the town was returning to normal.

    However, Father Navratnam, a Catholic priest who stayed on in Vavuniya, told the BBC that only about 10% of those who left had come back.

    Opposition plans

    Meanwhile, the main opposition United National Party (UNP) released its manifesto for next month's presidential elections.

    [ image: Ranil Wickremesinghe: Unveils plans]
    Ranil Wickremesinghe: Unveils plans
    UNP candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said he favoured talks with the Tigers and would take the "first practical steps towards peace" if elected.

    The talks could take place with a "third party facilitator" and could be held anywhere, if necessary outside the country.

    Mr Wickremesinghe also promised to cut taxes and said he would reform the police force.

    "I will bring in international experts to establish a modern police force to replace the one that has existed since the days of colonial rule," he said.

    Mr Wickremesinghe was Sri Lanka's prime minister between 1993-94.

    He has criticised President Kumaratunga for failing in her military strategy to contain the Tigers.

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

    The rebel group is fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

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