Death Toll Up as Sri Lanka Battles Rage : 250 Rebels Reported Dead as Indians Press House-to-House Fight

From Times Wire Services

Fierce house-to-house battles raged today on the northern Jaffna Peninsula as 6,000 Indian forces stepped up a three-day offensive that has left about 250 Tamil rebels dead, military sources said.

Indian sources said their troops have surrounded Jaffna, 190 miles north of Colombo, and were parachuting commandos in for a final assault on the city controlled by the largest rebel militia, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

About 2,000 guerrillas are defending the city of about 150,000 people, firing AK-47 assault guns and mortars from behind houses and using civilians as shields, said the sources, who were in Colombo and spoke on condition of anonymity.


Difficult Battle

“It is a very difficult situation. We are not fighting on a battlefield but among houses and civilians,” one Indian official said. He also spoke on condition of anonymity.

The intervention in the Tamil conflict was the first major action by Indian troops since they were called in by Sri Lanka under a July 29 peace accord between the Colombo government and the rebels. In June, Indian air force planes dropped food supplies to rebel areas then under siege by the Sri Lankan army. Sri Lanka called that move a threat to its sovereignity.

Sri Lankan military sources reported today that 250 Tiger fighters have died in the three-day Indian thrust, saying the figure was based on intercepted rebel radio messages.

15 Indians Killed

Indian officials said 15 of their soldiers have been killed and 60 wounded in the fighting.

In the southern Indian city of Madras, where the Tigers have exile headquarters, militia spokesman Sathasivam Krishnakumar claimed that the Tigers had lost only two men.

At that time, Sri Lankan military sources said 200 had died. They said the number had risen to 250 by this morning.


The figures could not be independently verified. Indian authorities have prevented journalists from visiting the battlefront, citing fears the reporters would be hurt. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the four-year Tamil insurgency.

Jaffna Objective

The Sri Lankan sources said the Indian army thrust was aimed at taking Jaffna. The Indian soldiers were battling south from their base at Palali and dropping commandos in other areas of the peninsula, they said.

Indian forces were using heavy artillery and mortars in the battle area, and have told civilians to evacuate, Indian and Sri Lankan sources said.

The rebels, equipped mostly with Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifles, rocket grenade launchers and homemade mortars, were reported mining the streets around Jaffna’s old Dutch fort.