DATE=4/21/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SRI LANKA ARMY (S&L) NUMBER=2-261586 BYLINE=JIM TEEPLE DATELINE=NEW DELHI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: In Sri Lanka a highly decorated army officer has been put in charge of halting a Tamil Rebel offensive in the northern Jaffna peninsula. V-O-A's Jim Teeple reports Tamil rebels have escalated their attacks against government forces over the past several days -- and both sides are reported to have suffered heavy troop losses in the battle to control a strategic north-south highway. Text: Major General Janaka Perera, one of Sri Lanka's most decorated soldiers, has been put in charge of keeping the strategic north-south A-9 highway under government control. Tamil Tiger rebels launched a major offensive this week to capture a portion of the highway that runs through Elephant Pass - the causeway that links the northern Jaffna peninsula with the rest of the country. Rebels lost control of the area to the army in 1996. Sri Lankan military authorities acknowledge some of their troops have withdrawn from some of their positions in the area. Heavy casualties are reported on both sides in some of the fiercest fighting in the region in months. // REST OPT FOR LONG // The new fighting comes as Norway has been trying to get the Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lanka's government to negotiate a solution to the conflict which has claimed more than 55-thousand lives over the past 20-years. Both sides have agreed to Norwegian mediation but so far no dates have been set for a face-to-face meeting. Tamil Tiger rebels are fighting to carve a separate homeland out of the Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka. Many Tamils say when it comes to getting jobs and a good education they face discrimination at the hands of the Sinhala majority. Sri Lanka's government says past discriminatory practices against Tamils are no longer in effect. (Signed) neb/jlt/plm 21-Apr-2000 06:45 AM EDT (21-Apr-2000 1045 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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