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Tamil Rebels: Gov’t Troops Repelled

May 31, 1998

VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Tamil guerrillas fighting to carve out an independent homeland said Sunday that they repelled government troops from a key town on the Jaffna Peninsula in a battle that killed 59 fighters.

The clandestine Voice of Tigers Radio monitored in Vavuniya, a government controlled town 130 miles north of the capital of Colombo, said the rebels also captured 14,000 rounds of rifle ammunition and 20 rocket propelled grenades from the retreating soldiers.

The radio said 50 soldiers and nine rebels have been killed in fighting since Friday. There was no independent confirmation of the rebel claim. The Sri Lankan government bars journalists from visiting the northern war theater unless taken on a military conducted tour.

The radio said a large number of troops were also injured in the battle that lasted for three hours.

Government troops have been trying for the past year to take control of a road that connects the northern Jaffna Peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka.

Jaffna is a former stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam captured by the army two years ago. So far, the troops have captured about two-thirds of the highway, with another 17 miles to go.

Since the army takeover, Jaffna’s half-million people have had to rely on air and sea deliveries for food and other supplies.

The clandestine radio said that the battle took place near Mankulam, a strategic town under the control of the rebels. Mankulam is 155 miles north of Colombo, and about 28 miles north of Vavuniya.

Mankulam is heavily fortified with mines, underground bunkers, razor wire and booby traps and has been held by the rebels against nearly 30,000 soldiers. It is also the largest town in the area.

The rebels are demanding a separate homeland, accusing the Sinhalese majority of oppressing the Tamil minority.

The war began in 1983 and has so far claimed 52,000 lives.

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