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The BBC's Susannah Price
"A third of the population have moved from their houses"
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Srinivasan Jain of New Delhi Television
"The Tigers have suffered a great deal of casualties"
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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
New weapons boost Sri Lankan army

The Sri Lankan Government says new weapons have helped turn the tide against Tamil rebels fighting in the north.

Junior Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte said the purchases had helped them contain recent reverses suffered in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

In the past few days fighting has been sporadic and a much-expected Tamil Tiger push to recapture Jaffna town, its former stronghold, has not come about.

General Ratwatte, who commanded the forces that captured Jaffna from the Tigers in 1995, told state media that the soldiers had been in "withdrawal mode" after suffering a series of heavy defeats.

"I noticed that the morale was low and they were also suffering from a withdrawal syndrome," he said.

All that had changed with the government's push to procure new weapons.

Shopping for arms

The minister said President Chandrika Kumaratunga contacted the leaders of "friendly and sympathetic" countries to get the latest and the best weapons.

Hundreds of artillery shells were falling all around us [and] I had to jump out

Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte
Israel and the Czech Republic are reported to be among those countries which sold arms to Sri Lanka.

Diplomatic ties with Israel were suddenly restored last month, after fighting broke out in the Jaffna peninsula.

No details were given of the arms purchases, but multi-barrel rocket launchers and Israeli-built Kfir fighter jets are reported to be among them.

The war zone had been out of bounds for journalists but a few of them were let in this week.

An Indian television reporter, Srinivasan Jain, visited Jaffna and said the fighting had now been localised.

He also said many civilians had been trapped between government troops and the rebels and had no way of getting out.

Air base attack

General Ratwatte, who had just returned from the war front, also said the peninsula's main air base and harbour - the only life line to the soldiers - had been hit by artillery shells.

"When I went to Palaly [air base] on May 18, my helicopter could not touch down because hundreds of artillery shells were falling all around us," he said. "I had to jump out."

The Tamil Tigers launched their campaign for Jaffna in April, when they took the strategic military base at Elephant Pass, an isthmus which connects the peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka.

Since then the government has tried to contain their offensive, while simultaneously launching a diplomatic offensive.

Norway, India and the United States have been at the forefront of efforts to end the war.

Earlier this week, a senior US official said Washington did not support a separate, independent Tamil homeland - words which greatly encouraged Colombo.

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See also:

31 May 00 | South Asia
Tiger onslaught 'beaten back'
30 May 00 | South Asia
War costs for Sri Lanka
25 May 00 | South Asia
Tamil diaspora surfs for news
24 May 00 | South Asia
Push for Sri Lankan peace
23 Feb 00 | South Asia
What chance peace in Sri Lanka?
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