COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, OCT. 16 -- India said its troops seized a major Tamil guerrilla stronghold on the outskirts of the beleaguered city of Jaffna today, killing 111 guerrillas, as the Sri Lankan separatists appealed unsuccessfully for a cease-fire.
Amid reports by refugees from the northern port city of Jaffna that the city's population was "suffering" from persistent shelling and lack of food and electricity, Indian officials here said their forces had reached the city limits after a battle over the village of Urumparai, considered a major bastion of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Laxmi Puri, a spokeswoman for the Indian High Commission, or embassy, in Colombo, said tonight that 111 Tamil guerrillas were killed in the battle for Urumparai while only 14 Indian troops were wounded.
The Indian claims could not be confirmed because telephone communications to Jaffna are cut, and the Indian government has blocked journalists and other observers from entering the area of India's week-old offensive.
Puri, however, confirmed reports that Ramaswami Balasubramanian, the Sri Lankan Red Cross representative in Jaffna, had received a handwritten message from the rebels calling for an immediate cease-fire.
The message apparently was addressed only "to whom it might concern" and was signed by Mahatiya Mahendraraja, the deputy chief of the Tamil Tigers, who have been resisting a four-pronged Indian attack on their main urban redoubt since last Saturday.
"The question of a cease-fire at this stage does not arise," Puri told a news briefing. The Indian response signaled an intention to continue the offensive until the rebels surrender unconditionally, despite reportedly high casualties being suffered on both sides.
Indian officials acknowledged that at least 80 Indian troops have been killed in the fighting, while a senior Sri Lankan official said at least 108 have been killed.
Indian troops first entered the Jaffna Peninsula to ensure the Tamils' safety under a Sri Lankan-Indian accord reached on July 29 to end the four-year-old war between Sri Lanka's Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the minority Hindu Tamils.
India already has turned down several rebel appeals for a cease-fire, including one made earlier in the week in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi from the Tigers' chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The Indian rejections have been based on the failure of the rebels to indicate any willingness to surrender their arms or accept the terms of the July peace accord.
Like other Tamil groups that fought over the years for a separate Tamil state, the Tigers, the strongest Tamil military organization by far, were eventually persuaded under Indian pressure to accept most provisions of the Indian-Sri Lankan accord. But they balked at turning in their weapons as required by the agreement and last month stepped up their attacks on rival Tamil groups and Sinhalese civilians, thus setting the stage for India's direct military intervention against them.
The fierceness of the fighting, which according to Indian accounts has resulted in the deaths of up to 507 guerrillas, has clearly raised rebel fears of annihilation by the vastly larger, better armed Indian troops.
Refugees who arrived here this morning reported that the rebels moved through Jaffna, a city with a peacetime population of 150,000, with megaphones, explaining, "We cannot win against the giant Indian Army, but we must fight for our rights." The Tigers have steadfastly insisted on struggling for an independent Tamil state.
A leading Tamil politician here, who asked not to be named, said the rebels were asking for a cease-fire prior to negotiations about handing in their arms and accepting the political provisions of the July 29 accord. The accord contains provisions for limited autonomy for Tamil-dominated provinces in the north and east.
"I'm afraid the Indian Army is unwilling to accept anything at this point short of total surrender," the Tamil politician said. "They are unwilling to even begin talks until the rebels agree to lay down all of their weapons."
Many Tamil moderates here fear that Jaffna might be leveled and untold numbers of civilians killed before the rebels surrender.
Though Indian officials insisted they were taking the "utmost precaution" to avoid civilian casualties, their decision to keep observers from the scene of the fighting has fueled speculation that many of the "rebel casualties" they have reported might in fact be civilians.
Today, Puri declined to give details of the Urumparai action and denied that civilians were among those killed during the Indian advance.
She said no prisoners were taken during the Indian assault. Asked about possible reluctance among Indian soldiers to take prisoners, Puri replied, "Well, they're not playing hide-and-seek. This is a shooting war."