COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, OCT. 21 -- The Indian military commander in Sri Lanka has been recalled for "urgent consultations" in New Delhi amid signs of Indian impatience with the slow and costly progress of the pacification campaign against Tamil guerrillas in the northern city of Jaffna.
While Indian government officials here and in the Indian capital sought to dispel reports that Maj. Gen. Harkirat Singh was being relieved of his command of the Indian peace-keeping force here, a spokesman in New Delhi tonight declined to specify when Singh would return.
Sri Lankan and foreign military analysts here said it was highly unusual for a government to pull a military commander out of the middle of a battle unless "they are displeased with his performance."
When Singh launched his campaign against Jaffna Oct. 10 in an effort to disarm the separatist guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Indian officials privately spoke with confidence of a quick and easy operation against the rebels, whom India had been supporting, defending and secretly arming only a few months ago.
Instead, the Indian Army has met stiff resistance. By official Indian accounts, 127 Indian troops have been killed, and 379 have been wounded.
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in Washington Tuesday, said it might take another week, or even two, before Jaffna is pacified.
The Indian government has sent an estimated 6,000 new troops to Sri Lanka in the past week, raising its peace-keeping force to more than 20,000 troops, according to Sri Lankan and foreign officials here.
The Indian forces came to Sri Lanka this summer under the terms of a July 29 agreement between Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene.
The accord sought to end a four-year civil war between the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority on this island nation off the southern tip of India. Under the accord, one of the main jobs of the Indian peace-keeping force was to guarantee the safety and security of the Tamil separatists after they surrendered their weapons.
The Indians turned against the Tigers, as the rebels are known, when they refused to hand in all their weapons and unleashed a new campaign of terror against Sinhalese civilians last month.
The recall of the general came as India appealed to the estimated 1,500 armed rebels of the militant Tamil group to surrender and accept an amnesty that would guarantee their return to normal political life.
The appeal was issued this afternoon on Sri Lankan and Indian radio broadcasts, from loudspeakers behind Indian lines on the outskirts of Jaffna and in leaflets dropped by aircraft and helicopters all over the city.
According to Laxmi Puri, a spokeswoman for the Indian Embassy, the amnesty offer to the guerrillas applied only to the rank and file, not to the key leadership.
Sri Lankan officials familiar with the Tigers said tonight they held little hope that the amnesty offer would be accepted.
Puri said the amnesty offer had been formulated after radio intercepts of rebel communications indicated that a debate was taking place among the ranks over the value of continued resistance to the superior Indian forces.
That claim, however, contrasted markedly with the words of Tiger guerrilla leaders and fighters interviewed in Jaffna Monday by Phil Jones, a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corp., who managed to visit the besieged city center with the assistance of guerrilla escorts.
Indian authorities have prevented independent observers, including foreign journalists, from traveling to the northern Jaffna area.
According to Jones, who returned to Colombo tonight, one of the Tiger commanders, whose alias is Yogi, said morale among his troops was high.
"We can go on forever," Yogi told the correspondent. "We are a guerrilla army fighting a conventional army. If it comes to it, we can melt away, regrouping behind the Indians to fight another day."
Jones said the guerrillas are operating with relative impunity behind the Indian lines. He said he was driven by the rebels in a tractor for almost 60 miles on back roads around Indian roadblocks to the shores of Jaffna Lagoon across from the city proper.
Jones reported that the level of fighting in the center of the city and the extent of the Indian advance seemed far less than what communiques issued in New Delhi and Colombo in recent days have claimed.
For example, although India claimed to have penetrated the downtown area and captured the main bus terminal Monday, Jones said he was standing at the bus terminal Monday evening -- hours after the Indian claims -- and there was no sign of fighting anywhere near the area.
"There was very little shooting, very little artillery or sounds of battle, and the Indian forces seemed still to be miles away," Jones said.