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The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo
"Analysts say the Tamil Tigers are likely to keep up the pressure ahead of proposed peace talks"
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Sunday, 23 April, 2000, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Rebels take Sri Lanka army base
Jaffna refugees
Jaffna is a hotly-contested area in the civil war
The Sri Lankan Government has admitted that Tamil Tiger rebels have taken control of the key Elephant Pass military base on the northern Jaffna peninsula.

A Sri Lankan military spokesman said the army had withdrawn from territory south of the pass.

The army says fighting is continuing in areas north of Elephant Pass, and that the air force had been carrying out bombing raids on rebel targets.

The base is seen as the military gateway to the Jaffna peninsula, which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are seeking to control.

The army has redeployed most of the weapons and vehicles, and troops had destroyed pieces of their own military equipment which could not be moved, the spokesman said.

The army said 79 soldiers were killed, and more than 400 injured in the battle, while the Tigers lost 150 fighters.

The spokesman said the army had suffered reversals in the past, and would begin again to try to take the area.

The Tigers said on Saturday they had overrun the base after capturing another nearby camp at Iyakachchi, and would now push on to the rest of the peninsula.

They did not give their own casualty figures.

Reversal of fortune

The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo says that this time the army's fortunes were reversed, despite its vast superiority in numbers.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
  • An unwinnable war?
  • Timeline of conflict
  • Leading the Tigers
  • The ethnic divide
  • Although the Tiger attack was expected, it is thought that lack of clear leadership and low morale among government troops contributed to their defeat.

    The Jaffna peninsula has been the scene of fighting over the past three weeks.

    Up to 20,000 government troops have been engaged in exchanges of heavy artillery fire with the rebels.

    The Tigers have been attacking Jaffna ever since they lost control of the peninsula in 1995.

    Previously it was a Tiger stronghold and centre of operations, and its capture was seen as a major success for the army.

    Peace talks

    The clashes in the north come amid moves by Norway to bring the LTTE and the Colombo government to the negotiating table.

    Both sides have agreed to Norwegian facilitation, but dates for a face-to-face meeting have not yet been agreed.

    The opposition United National Party called for an emergency session of parliament to discuss the situation.

    There has also been an official appeal on state radio for blood donations to treat the wounded soldiers.

    Blood banks will stay open late on Sunday to receive donors.

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