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Sunday, 21 May, 2000, 04:08 GMT 05:08 UK
Tigers 'take key Jaffna town'
Government troops
Government troops find it difficult to resist rebels' attacks
Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka say their troops have taken a key town in the eastern part of the Jaffna peninsula amid signs that government forces are struggling to hold their advance.

A statement by the group said government forces pulled out of Chavakachcheri - 15km east of Jaffna Town - after a 12-hour battle.


We will not leave Jaffna. We will push the Tigers out

Major General Jaanaka Perera
The Sri Lankan Government did not comment on the statement, although the army admitted that it had been sending more weapons to its troops fighting the Tamil Tigers.

The rebel claim came as a Sri Lankan general publicly rejected their demand for the military to surrender within a week "to avoid the continuing bloodbath".

Click here to see a map of the region

The Tigers have promised government soldiers "will be treated with dignity and honour" if they lay down their arms.

"We will not leave Jaffna," Major General Jaanaka Perera is quoted as saying. "We will push the Tigers out."

"Heavy losses"

The rebels gave no casualty figures on the latest fighting but said the Sri Lankan army had suffered heavy losses.

A statement issued by their office in London said that columns of heavily armed commandos backed by artillery and mortar fire had launched a multi-pronged attack on Chavakachcheri at dawn.

A Tamil Tiger rebel
The rebels said government troops could surrender "to avoid bloodbath"
Chavakachcheri lies east of Jaffna Town, the cultural capital of the homeland for which the Tamil rebels have been fighting since 1983.

Earlier the government said its troops had thwarted a rebel attack at a location south of Chavakachcheri.

The officials said they were maintaining a regular flow of essential supplies to the troops through the main harbour and the Palali airbase on the Jaffna peninsula, despite a claim by the Tigers that they had heavily bombarded the port.

Thousands of residents have already fled Jaffna Town and the International Red Cross has visited displaced people staying in school buildings outside the town.

Diplomatic sources say Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen is expected to have talks with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga on the military crisis.

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See also:

20 May 00 | South Asia
Tigers attack Jaffna harbour
19 May 00 | South Asia
Jaffna defences shored up
09 May 00 | South Asia
Timeline of the Tamil conflict
17 May 00 | South Asia
Bomb blast in Sri Lanka
17 May 00 | South Asia
Terror on Sri Lankan faultline
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