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The battle for Jaffna

Print edition : May 27, 2000 T+T-
A ground-level account of the action.D.B.S. JEYARAJ

JAFFNA, or Yarlpaanam, in northern Sri Lanka is now the main theatre of conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is now focussing it energies and attention on Jaffna, which is described by its political adviser in London, Anton Balasingham, as "the cultural capital of the Sri Lankan Tamils". After a string of victories in the northern mainland of the Wanni and later in the southeastern part of the Jaffna Peninsula, the LTTE is advancing further upwards with the objective of establishing con trol over the whole region. Although there have been several stages of fighting, the entire operation, styled by it as "Oyatha Alaigal" (unceasing waves), continues. It is apparent from LTTE literature that these "lashing waves will cease" only after "en gulfing" Jaffna city in particular and the Peninsula in general.

There is, however, some confusion in the media when referring to Jaffna. There is a tendency to treat it as a single entity when it is not so. Geographically, Jaffna is the name for the northern peninsula. It is also the name of the district. Jaffna dist rict consists of all the areas in the Peninsula and the outlying islands except for the Pachchilaippalli Assistant Government Division (Taluk). The latter belongs to Kilinochchi district. Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts together comprise the Jaffna elec toral district. There is also the Jaffna electoral division (known as electorate in the earlier voting system). Then there is Jaffna city. Jaffna city or municipality consists of the Jaffna electoral division as well as areas from the adjoining Nallur el ectoral division. Ariyalai and Colombothurai, for instance, are part of the Jaffna municipal area. So technically the LTTE is in Jaffna city after entering Colombothurai or Ariyalai. Yet some news reports state that the Tigers are closing in on Jaffna ci ty. What is meant here is the heart of Jaffna city or what was the "old" Jaffna town prior to it being made a municipality. Cognizance of these differences about Jaffna will be helpful to understand the nature and significance of the current fighting bet ter.

After the fall of Elephant Pass, the LTTE went on to take Pallai on the Jaffna-Kandy road or the A-9 highway. It also took areas towards the northeast and Puloppalai to the northwest of Pallai. The Tigers also went further north on the A-9 to reach the s outhern outskirts of Eluthumattuvaal. They also advanced up the southwestern coast to reach Kilali. On the eastern coast, the LTTE targeted Nagar Kovil. The Sri Lankan armed forces began strengthening their defences in a diagonal line that extended from Kilali to Nagar Kovil via Eluthumattuvaal. At the same time, the LTTE had also established fixed positions in Keratheevu and southern Tanankilappu southwest of the Peninsula. Also, it had a presence in Eastern Ariyalai in the places around "Munai", or po int, including the settlement scheme called "Poompuhaar".

The Elephant Pass debacle along with the LTTE's clear-cut military ascendancy had caused grave apprehensions about the future of the Sri Lankan armed forces in the Peninsula. If the LTTE succeeded in advancing further and besieging the Palaly-Kankesanthu rai base complex, the military supply lines between Jaffna and the rest of the country would be placed at great risk. After the recent change in the military equation, Palaly airport and Kankesanthurai harbour were the only viable entry and exit points f or air and sea communication. If the LTTE juggernaut rolled on relentlessly and interdicted this link, the physical safety of 38,000 troops in Jaffna would be in peril.

Even as a controversy arose in India about this issue, the LTTE offered a "temporary ceasefire". The Tigers stated that their ceasefire would enable the Sri Lankan government to evacuate the "beleaguered troops" safely through the good offices of the Int ernational Committee of the Red Cross and avoid further "escalation of violence and a bloodbath". Calling upon the Sri Lankan government to "respond positively without delay", the Tigers also hinted at "a permanent ceasefire" in the future that would "cr eate cordial conditions for peace talks and a negotiated political settlement". The LTTE also held out a warning that the government will "bear total responsibility for the disastrous consequences of heavy military casualties if it rejects our proposal f or de-escalation and continues the war effort". Whatever the motives behind the LTTE offer, it seemed to open a "window of opportunity" for the de-escalation of the conflict. While the government could not be expected to accept all the terms of the offer , analysts felt that Colombo would accept a ceasefire in principle, and then negotiate further. But the government reacted quickly and defiantly. The offer was rejected out of hand as "psychological warfare". The government urged the Army to fight on as there would be no withdrawal. The government position was that the people of Jaffna could not be abandoned .

President Chandrika Kumaratunga attempted to restore morale by issuing a special message of enthusiastic hope to the soldiers on the battlefront. Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte announced in Parliament in Sri Jayewardenepura that "we would fig ht to the last man". Analysts point out that the LTTE "offer" had been drafted in a manner that offered no face-saving way out. It was an ultimatum demanding total surrender without explicitly stating so. The government could just not cave in. Also the r etention of Jaffna was of paramount importance to the political fortunes of the People's Alliance (P.A.) government. The P.A.'s record of governance has been dismal, and in recent times the only effective "plus point" had been the taking of Jaffna. It wa s the P.A.'s "jewel in the crown". If the government was seen as abandoning Jaffna it was likely to affect the P.A. in the parliamentary elections to be held after August. Besides, if the government was perceived as letting go of Jaffna without a fight t here was a possibility of anti-Tamil violence breaking out in the Sinhala-dominated areas.

Apart from these reasons there was a view in government circles that the LTTE had overstretched its limited resources. It was felt that the Tigers lacked the wherewithal to sustain the current levels of pressure. Also, that it was short of the manpower a nd firepower needed to take over the greater part of the Peninsula, including Jaffna city and the Palaly-Kankesanthurai base complex. Therefore, the ceasefire offer was interpreted as a stratagem of the LTTE to cover up its deficiency and a bold gamble a imed at getting the Army out without fighting. There was also optimism that after obtaining fresh arms and armaments (Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar put thier value at US$800 million), the military situation would tilt against the LTTE.

The Sri Lankan government also unleashed a massive aerial bombardment within and without the Peninsula. The bombing was ostensibly aimed to prevent the LTTE from inducting its cadres from the mainland into the Peninsula. More important, it was also a "se arch-and-destroy" mission against LTTE heavy artillery. In recent times, the Tigers have used long-range artillery and armoured cars extensively and successfully in combat. The Air Force scoured the skies in search of these. The objective was to destroy these before the LTTE could move them and reach positions within firing range of the Palaly-Kankesanthurai base. In spite of intensive bombardment there have been no claims by Colombo of targeting artillery or armoured cars. On the other hand, there have been instances where the Israeli built Kfir jets of the Air Force have been way off the mark as in the case of the Pallikuda bombing near Pooneryn on the mainland where five civilians were killed.

Observers have detected a "pause-and-pounce" strategy in the LTTE campaign. The Tigers do not fight on continuously. Instead they conduct intermittent assaults, resting in between. These temporary lulls in the LTTE offensive were misinterpreted in Colomb o as signs of weakness. In a dangerous exercise of self-delusion, sections of the Colombo media projected the view that the LTTE "wave" had ebbed. The pause-and-pounce pattern was seen as signifying the LTTE's decline. There was a confident assertion tha t the critical period for the government had passed and that it had "turned the corner". Events that unfolded proved how dangerously wrong this assessment was.

The temporary calm before the storm ended on May 10. In a three-pronged deceptive exercise, LTTE cadres attacked simultaneously the Kilali, Eluthumattuvaal and Nagar Kovil defence lines. The assault in Kilali was particularly severe as the main camp was assailed from three directions. But ultimately these manoeuvres proved to be part of an elaborate diversionary tactic. The "real" action was close to Jaffna city. This was also on three fronts but within proximity of each other. A simultaneous offensive was launched on all three fronts. The first was when LTTE cadres crossed the western parts of the lagoon from Kalmunai on the mainland in the Pooneryn area and reached Ariyalai munai on the Peninsula. These cadres advanced further through Poompuhaar and attacked the Army detachment at Maniyan Thottam in Ariyalai. As the Army retreated, the LTTE moved through Ariyalai's interior and reached the Nedunkulam junction on the Jaffna-Kandy road. Technically, the Tigers were now in Jaffna city, 2 km from the Ja ffna road leading to the Jaffna district secretariat at Chundikuly. They moved along Mambalam junction and reached Pungankulam junction where another Army detachment was stationed at a community centre-cum-library. Fighting ensued and the Army withdrew. There is, however, a very large camp at the Old Park premises opposite the Jaffna secretariat. Personnel deployed there also entered combat. The LTTE had not moved beyond Pungankulam junction.

The second front was at Navatkuli on the outskirts of Jaffna city. A very long causeway-cum-bridge across the lagoon, known as the Navatkuli palam, is situated on the Jaffna-Kandy road here. It is of strategic importance as it links the Thenmarachchi sec tor with Jaffna city. Navatkuli has large military installations. Buildings such as a government warehouse and granary, and private shrimp processing and hardware manufacturing plants are now part of a military complex. The Tigers advance into Jaffna cit y was anticipated and Navatkuli, its gateway, was fortified. A squad of LTTE commandoes, known as Leopards, raided Navatkuli and established control initially on a 2 km stretch of road that included the vital Navatkuli palam.

The third front was at Tanankilappu. The shortest points between the Peninsula and the mainland on the western lagoon is Keratheevu and Sangupiddy respectively. The LTTE already held both. A road runs from Keratheevu and reaches Navatkuli along the coast , somewhat parallel to the A-9. The road branches off at Tanankilappu junction, where one branch goes straight on to Navatkuli through Kovilaakkandy while the other goes to Chavakachcheri, which incidentally is the largest town in the Thenmarachchi secto r. LTTE cadres moved in great numbers from Sangupiddy to Keratheevu and then launched a two-pronged attack on the defences at Tanankilappu on the one hand, and Kovilaakkandy on the other. As fighting progressed, the LTTE claimed successes over both the T anankilappu and Kovilaakkandy bases. Thereafter, the LTTE could have moved further up the Tanankilappu road towards Chavakachcheri town. Doing so would have made the Tigers vulnerable to Sri Lankan artillery and aerial attacks as the winding road passes mostly through wide open spaces. Instead of taking that route the LTTE moved towards Navatkuli. After a lull, the LTTE went along the axis of the Navatkuli road and attacked the smaller camp at Thachanthoppu on the way. Troops withdrew after skirmishes. Then came a ferocious onslaught on the Navatkuli base with the Tigers encircling and attacking it on three points from Thachanthoppu, Ariyalai and Navatkuli bridge. After some fierce fighting, the LTTE announced the capture of Navatkuli.

MEANWHILE, another LTTE contingent came across in a flotilla of boats from Nachikuda in the mainland and landed at the Colombothurai jetty in the Peninsula. Colombothurai, also within Jaffna municipal limits, is beyond Ariyalai on the coast. There is, ho wever, another area called Thundi between both with a large Army presence. The Tigers bypassed Thundi by landing straightaway in Colombothurai. Thereafter, they started moving closer to the Jaffna city centre, by proceeding along the coast.

From Colombothurai, the Tigers moved to adjacent Pashaioor and from there to Karaioor, now known as Gurunagar. The LTTE met with stiff resistance in both places but succeeded in proceeding quite a distance on the coast. At the same time, it has not moved into the interior of Colombothurai, Pashaioor or Gurunagar but has maintained its presence only along the coast, at least for now. This is what has led to conflicting claims: the government says these areas are in its possession, while the LTTE says it moved along the coast and took these places. Both sides are partially correct. The balance, however, would alter drastically if and when the LTTE decides to move into the interior of Jaffna city in a decisive manner.

More significant and from Colombo's perspective, fatal strides were made in the Thenmaratchchi sector. After taking Kovilakkandy, another LTTE column went along an interior road through Maravan Pulavu and reached Kaithady situated between Navatkuli on on e side and Mattuvil/Nunavil on the other. The village is about six miles from Jaffna city centre and consists of areas on either side of the Jaffna-Kandy road. A sprawling Army camp consisting of several houses in the vicinity has been set up at Kaithady junction. Technically it may not be defined as a "base" but it is certainly a key and vital military installation set up at a strategically important spot.

Branching off from Kaithady northwards is the Kaithady-Kopay road. This road, bordered by Chemmani, winds its way through sections of the lagoon, paddyfields, palmyra groves and open spaces until it reaches the Irupalai junction in Kopay on the Jaffna-Po int Pedro road. If one were to proceed straight further along, one would reach Urumpirai junction, on the axis of the Palaly-Jaffna road. With a slight change of direction and covering a short distance one would reach Punnalaikattuvan on the outer perime ter of Palaly complex. If one turns at Irupalai junction in the direction of Point Pedro, then the villages of Puthoor, Neervely and Atchuvely can be reached along the Point Pedro-Jaffna road.

All of them provide access through the interior to reach vantage points, rendering Palaly vulnerable. If one were to turn in the direction of Jaffna one can cover Kopay, Kalviyan Kaadu and Nallur on the Jaffna-Point Pedro road. This would enable the LTTE to move in on Jaffna city from other directions too.

Reports from the warfront towards the end of the third week of May indicate that the LTTE has after a 12 hour battle overrun the Kaithady camp. Thereafter, the rebels have progressed some distance along the Kaithady-Kopay road and reached the large area known as Kopayveli, 12 km from the Palaly base.

They have targeted 122 mm artillery guns with a range of 17 km at Palaly. The first shells fell in Punnalaikattuvan north and then in Vasavilaan. All these areas have been acquired by the state and incorporated as part of the Palaly base. Nearly 12, 000 acres (4,800 hectares) of prime agricultural land in the Valigamam north AGA division have been annexed to the Palaly-Kankesanthurai complex in order to ensure territorial contiguity between airfield and harbour. The expansion of the base also ensured im munity from LTTE attacks, it was felt. But the LTTE was now targeting Palaly with its long-range artillery.

By May 20 it seemed certain that the Tigers could target Palaly effectively. The LTTE claimed that the air traffic control tower at Palaly was hit and damaged. It also claimed that its shells had fallen on the runway as well as on several buildings and b arracks within the Palaly base, killing a number of personnel. Significantly, the government denied that the shells had fallen on the runway but was silent about the other claims. The LTTE also claimed that shells were now falling in the Kankesanthurai h arbour area, about 5 km from the airport. LTTE media outlets abroad claimed on May 20 that the government had suspended air and sea traffic at Palaly and Kankesanthurai after its shells fell in those places.

It was also clear by May 22 that the Palaly-Kankesanthurai base was not dysfunctional as claimed by the Tigers. Even though Tiger shells were falling in the airport and the harbour, air and sea traffic continued. In spite of the pressure, the supply line s had not been disrupted - at least not until by May 22.

Significantly, the LTTE seemed to have moved some of its artillery closer to Palaly, presumably along the interior of the Jaffna-Point Pedro-Palaly roads. LTTE-fired shells were now hitting places beyond Kankesanthurai to its west, places such as Senthan kulam and Illavalai Mathagal. This made Army positions on the northern and northwestern coastal sectors vulnerable and increased pressure on Kankesanthurai. If and when the LTTE dominates the entire Thenmaratchchi sector, it would be in a position to mov e in full force into the Vadamarachchi and various zones of Valigamam. Also, it would be possible for the Tigers to use the Wanni mainland as a rear base and move to and from the Peninsula without big problems. This has caused some analysts to wonder whe ther the LTTE would try to take over the entire Peninsula first before going for Jaffna town.

In the meantime, Air Force planes kept searching for LTTE artillery positions. Even though many bombing forays were conducted, nothing tangible seemed to have been achieved by May 22.

A SMALL group of LTTE cadres also infiltrated the Valigamam West sector and were seen in the area with heavy weapons. The Army had closed down several camps in this sector in the aftermath of the fall of Elephant Pass. These included the ones at Chankana i, Vaddukkoddai and Sithankerni. Upon receipt of information that the Tigers were seen in these places, a large number of troops converged on Vaddukkoddai, Sithankerni and Chankanai and conducted a cordon and search operation. No Tiger cadres, however, w ere netted. The fighting in and around Jaffna started an inflow of displaced persons into this sector.

The possession of Kopayveli as well as progress on the Kaithady-Kopay road has afforded the LTTE a major advantage vis-a-vis Palaly. Apart from reaching strategic positions by proceeding along the road, the Tigers can also use the Kopayveli "plain s" bounding the all pervasive lagoon and reach Kappoothu in the Vadamarachchi sector, Mattuvil in the Thenmarachchi sector, Vatharavathai-Puthoor and Sirupiddy-Neervely in the Valigamam sectors. By May 20, reports indicated that the LTTE was pursuing at least one of these options successfully.

A small road - Chappattiaan Kulam road - running through parts of Kopayveli links Kaithady north with Mattuvil north. The Tigers proceeded along this road and passed beyond the Mattuvil landmark, the Pandrithalaichi Amman temple. Thereafter comes the Mat tuvil-Sarasaalai junction. The Sarasaalai junction is commonly known as the Kanaganpuliady junction. Five roads converge here. Heavy fighting has taken place between the LTTE and the army at Sarasaalai. The importance of Kanaganpuliady junction renders its control essential to both sides.

Five roads lead out of Kanaganpuliady. First, there is the Madduvil-Kaithady road. Secondly, the Sarasaalai-Kappoothu-Kaligai-Point Pedro road. Thirdly, the Sarasaalai-Vembiraai junction road that mounts the Jaffna-Kandy road between Meesaalai and Kodika mam. Another road from Vembiraai junction goes through Manthuvil and joins the Neeliaddy-Kodikamam road at Varany. Fourthly, there is the Chavakachcheri post office road through Kerudavil (not to be confused with Kerudavil near Valvettithurai) and Perunk ulam that reaches Chavakachcheri town. Fifthly, there is the Sarasaalai south road that reaches the Puthoor area after crossing the Vannathi Paalam bridge. It is also possible to travel through Mattuvil and reach the Jaffna-Kandy road at Nunaavil.

The vast potential and possibilities of the strategic Kanaganpuliady and to a lesser extent, the Vembiraai junctions, makes the fighting quite intensive.

If and when Kanaganpuliady falls to the LTTE and the Tigers take over all linking roads, the Army will have to vacate Chavakachcheri town and its environs. If the LTTE proceeds downwards from Chavakachcheri, then the greater part of the Thenmarachchi sec tor will come under its control.

The armed forces will have no choice but to move out from places like Kilali, Eluthumattuvaal, Kodikamam and Kachai. Already the LTTE is asking the civilians to move out from the Chavakachcheri sector. In addition to Thenmarachchi, the Tigers can move fa r more easily into Vadamarachchi and Valigamam sectors apart from edging closer to Jaffna city from other directions and increasing pressure on Palaly-Kankesanthurai.

In comparison with the swift pace at which the LTTE progressed in earlier campaigns, the current fight seems slow. This is mainly due to logistical reasons. The LTTE needs time to move its cadres and armaments in sufficient numbers into the upper portion s of the Peninsula. This is particularly so in the case of relocating its artillery. Heavy camouflaging is needed to prevent it being targeted aerially and destroyed. Also avenues for speedy mobility have to be ensured because the secret of tiger success es has been its ability to move heavy guns quickly from point to point in combat. Also, fighting positions like bunkers , pill boxes and trenches have to be constructed at vantage points.

Ideally, the LTTE would have preferred to "pause" for longer periods, prepare adequately, and then "pounce", but circumstances have compelled LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakaran to expedite his moves after the Elephant Pass victory. First, the LTTE leader knows that more than any other factor his recent victories were owing to the widespread demoralisation that has set in within Army ranks. Therefore he wants to extract maximum advantage out of that demoralised mood. To pause too long may give the troops time to restore at least part of their lost morale and regain a fighting spirit. As such the LTTE has to keep its military pressure on relentlessly. Secondly, the LTTE has to reach within striking distance of the Palaly-Kankesanthurai complex as soon as possible. By achieving this proximity, the LTTE can start and sustain an intensive artillery barrage. An "encircle and enfeeble" strategy similar to the one adopted at Elephant Pass, seems somewhat an ambitious project at this juncture. But maintaining an artillery barrage is imperative. This would help disrupt supplies to Jaffna and retard the Army's logistical equilibrium. It would also unnerve the troops, reduce morale and increase panic. Also with Colombo embarking on an expedited world-wide shoppi ng binge for arms and armaments, the LTTE wants to prevent those from reaching Jaffna by a pre-emptive decommissioning of its one and only conduit - the Palaly-Kankesanthurai base complex.

Another factor causing accelerated movement is the international dimension. The LTTE knows that at some point international pressure or possibly intervention will compel both parties to suspend fighting and start talking. If and when that moment comes, t he Tigers want to have as much real estate as possible in addition to contracting and undermining Palaly-Kankesanthurai. The LTTE may have scant regard for the rule of law, but it knows that "possession is nine-tenths ownership".

The weekend of May 20 and 21 saw a spurt in action in the Thenmarachchi sector. The LTTE moved from Kaithady into the Mattuvil-Sarasaalai areas and targeted the strategic Kanakanpuliady camp at the Skandavarodaya school. After heavy fighting the Tigers o verran the camp as well as some smaller camps in the vicinity. Thereafter the Tigers followed through on one route and attacked the camp at nearby Vembiraai junction.

The Army abandoned it and readjusted its defence lines. Utilising the geographic advantage accruing to them as a result of dominating Kanakanpuliady, the Tigers launched a multi-pronged attack on the main Thenmarachchi town of Chavakachcheri which, incid entally, is also the second largest town in the peninsula, nest to Jaffna. In the process, the LTTE took over the areas of Mattuvil, Nunavil, Sangathanai, Kovil Kudiyiruppu and Sarasaalai. After some heavy fighting, the soldiers pulled back to positions near Meesalai and Kachchai. Even though the Tigers were claiming Chavakachcheri, the government was denying the claim on the strength of the fact that some soldiers were in occupation of certain spots in the general area of Chavakachcheri even though not in the town.

Even as the armed forces began withdrawing from Thenmarachchi into the Vadamarachchi areas, the LTTE mounted attacks on the remaining Army camps in the Thenmarachchi sector. These were in Kodikamam, Kachchai, Meesalai, Mirusuvil, Eluthumattuvaal and Kila ly. By May 22 it was apparent that the most intensive attack was on in Kilaly.

One tragic consequence of the fighting in Thenmarachchi was that a number of civilians were affected. The most horrifying incident took place in Kaithady when shells hit a home for the aged: 16 senior citizens were killed and 31 injured.

THE Tigers are impelled to go slow in actual fighting, particularly in the case of densely populated places such as Jaffna or Chavakachcheri. Ironically, similar factors cramped the Indian Army when it confronted the LTTE during "Operation Pawan" in 198 7 to take over Jaffna. The Sri Lanka Army was not constrained in this manner when it took Jaffna during "Operation Riviresa" in 1995. Lt. General A.S. Kalkat, who commanded the Indian Army in Jaffna in 1987, explained this clearly in an interview to N. R am in 1995 (Frontline, December 29, 1995). Kalkat said that unlike the Sri Lanka Army that followed a broad front strategy to take Jaffna, he was hampered by concern for loss to civilian life, limb and property. The Indian Army had to avoid civili an casualties and destruction. It could not simply reduce everything to rubble for territorial gain. This "handicap" faced by the Indian Army was exploited by the LTTE then.

Now the LTTE finds itself in a somewhat similar position. The Tigers project themselves as freedom fighters and describe the current war as one seeking to "liberate their homeland from alien aggression". So the LTTE cannot simply launch an all-out offens ive and simply march in. The Tigers, who claim to be fighting on behalf of the Tamil people, must demonstrate their concern for the civilians. They cannot fire artillery at random or destroy buildings. They also cannot endanger civilian lives unnecessari ly.

There are also logistical reasons. Propagandists in Colombo may "scream" about the Tigers having unlimited firepower and manpower to the extent of sacrificing cadres in waves. All knowledgeable military observers know this is incorrect. Judicious and eco nomic usage of artillery coupled with unbelievable flexibility and mobility has allowed the LTTE to gain maximum advantage from its artillery.

A close examination of the LTTE leader's recent war strategy demonstrates that great care is taken to ensure prevention of loss to Tiger lives. Apart from its strategic superiority and tactical brilliance the element of economical management is also evid ent. It is a case of extracting maximum gains out of minimum resources - material and human. All these factors restrain the LTTE from conducting an all-out onslaught. Even if it wins pitched battles, the LTTE would suffer immense losses, making the victo ry a Pyrrhic one. The overwhelming concern, however, is for civilians. If the LTTE succeeds after demolishing and destroying much of Jaffna or Chavakachcheri and after causing immense civilian casualties it will be accountable to some level at least to i nternational and Tamil public opinion.

These inhibiting factors are clear in its current approach.

Instead of moving to Chavakachcheri by way of the main Kandy road, it is adopting a more elaborate tactic of encirclement that would enable it to take the town with minimum damage and losses. Likewise, it has scrupulously avoided fighting in the thickly populated interior of Jaffna city. Instead it is encircling the Jaffna municipal area. These are in comparative terms sparsely populated. Although civilians have started moving out from Jaffna to areas like Manipay, relief organisations estimate that 75 per cent of the population still remains in Jaffna.

The LTTE has issued a one-week deadline for the Army in Jaffna city to surrender "with dignity and honour". If they lay down arms they are promised safe passage out of Jaffna within 24 hours under the auspices of the Red Cross. This message is being rela yed in Sinhala over the LTTE radio - "Voice Of Tigers" - and also blared over loudspeakers. The armed forces remained apparently oblivious to the LTTE demand. The overall commander of the armed forces in the north, Maj-Gen Janaka Perera, announced over television that there was no question of surrendering and that the armed forces would fight to the last man if necessary. He also asserted that the Army could push the LTTE out of Jaffna in due course.

The immediate objectives of the LTTE will be increasing pressure on Jaffna, Chavakachcheri and the Palaly-Kankesanthurai complex. If and when the time is ripe, the LTTE will strike.