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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 11:13 GMT
Tamil rebels consolidate gains
Thousands of civilans have been displaced by the fighting

Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have been consolidating fresh gains made when they overran several military outposts, inflicting further losses on government forces.

The Tigers say they have captured five more towns in the north-west. They say they have lost 10 fighters in the latest round of fighting; the army says 48 Tigers and nine air force personnel have been killed.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
  • An unwinnable war?
  • Timeline of conflict
  • Leading the Tigers
  • The ethnic divide
  • On Thursday, artillery shells fired by the Tigers landed in the government-held town of Vavuniya, killing three civilians.

    The BBC's Jannat Jalil in Colombo says the rebel group has now regained all the territory it lost to the Sri Lankan army since 1995, with the exception of Jaffna.

    Reports said the Tigers were fortifying their position on the outskirts of Vavuniya. Military officials said the rebels were building bunkers 10-15km from the town.

    Click here to see a map of the war zone

    Thursday's shelling came as thousands of Vavuniya's mainly Tamil residents began returning, after the Tigers said they had abandoned a planned attack on the town.

    With the increase in tension, Vavuniya's streets are deserted and banks and offices are reported to be closed.

    The Tigers have apologised for the artillery attack but have asked civilians to keep away from military installations.

    Towns captured

    The Tigers say they now hold the towns of Periyamadu, Pallamadu, Palampiddi, Thatchanamaruthu and Madu, all of which are in the coastal district of Mannar in the northwest.

    The town of Madu is famous in Sri Lanka for its 17th century Roman Catholic shrine and is a popular destination for pilgrims.

    The rebel group's latest gains follow the heavy defeats they inflicted on government forces earlier this month, when they overran 10 towns in less than a week.

    Our correspondent says the latest Tiger victories would allow them to threaten a strategic highway which links Vavuniya to Mannar.

    The military setbacks are being seen as a major embarrassment for President Chandrika Kumaratunga and could hurt her chances of re-election in next month's presidential election.

    Both Ms Kumaratunga and her main rival, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, have pledged to hold talks with the Tigers to reach a settlement of the conflict.

    The Tamil Tigers are fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

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    See also:
    17 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Civilians return to frontline town
    16 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Sri Lanka battle lines drawn
    08 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Analysis: Kumaratunga under pressure
    11 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Civilians flee Sri Lankan town
    10 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Sri Lanka: The ethnic divide
    08 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Extra troops sent to face Tigers
    04 Aug 99 |  Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka's unwinnable war
    28 Jan 98 |  South Asia
    Timeline of the Tamil conflict
    04 Aug 99 |  South Asia
    Sri Lanka: Searching for a solution

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