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DATE=11/17/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=LANKA/ VAVUNIYA (L-O) NUMBER=2-256261 BYLINE=VANDANA CHOPRA DATELINE=COLOMBO INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels have asked civilians who fled the northern town of Vavuniya to return to their homes. From Colombo, Vandana Chopra reports the residents fled following threats to bombard town. TEXT: The clandestine Voice of Tiger radio, the rebel mouthpiece, (Wednesday) thanked people for cooperating. It said the rebels would inform people when they plan to attack the town in the future. Last week, after repeated threats of attack from the rebels, up to 100-thousand people fled the bustling Tamil-majority town of Vavuniya -- 210-kilometers north of the capital, Colombo. The rebel radio broadcast urged the residents to return to avoid the difficult conditions they are living in away from their homes. The announcement also said that their main targets are military bases and advised people to avoid living in close proximity to military establishments. Sri Lankan military official's say after the rebel threats to attack the town, the army moved reinforcements to the area and strengthened security in the region. Meanwhile, government officials say the situation in Vavuniya has improved and a large number of people have moved back to the town. A defense ministry statement says 60-percent of the government officials have reported for duty and most of the government departments are functioning satisfactorily. Places in the Northern Wanni region came under rebel threat after the guerillas launched their latest offensive, code-named "Unceasing wave 3", last month. The rebels have won control of several areas since the first of November. The guerillas have been fighting for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka's North and East since 1983. (SIGNED) NEB/VC/LTD/RAE 17-Nov-1999 09:00 AM EDT (17-Nov-1999 1400 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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