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Sri Lankan Forces Brace for Fierce Battle Over Stronghold

April 24, 2000|Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Government troops Sunday girded for what was expected to be a bloody battle for control of Jaffna, a strategic stronghold that rebels are determined to recapture.

State-run radio here in the capital appealed to people to donate blood, apparently fearing heavy casualties in the fight for Jaffna, which the military captured from the rebels 4 1/2 years ago. The report said 500 people had already lined up to donate blood.

After two days of fierce fighting, rebels on Saturday seized the key Elephant Pass causeway in northern Sri Lanka--the doorstep to Jaffna.

The military on Sunday sent reinforcements to Jaffna's airport, which remains the only link with the mainland after the fall of the causeway. Although Jaffna can be reached by ship, government soldiers would be vulnerable to rebel artillery fire.

A military officer said government troops withdrew from the Elephant Pass area after it became clear that it would be very difficult to hold.

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