JAFFNA, SRI LANKA, OCT. 24 -- Standing on the stone parapet of a 300-year-old Dutch fort here, Maj. Gen. Amrjit Singh Kalkat, chief of operations of the Southern Command of the Indian Army, today confidently proclaimed victory in the battle against Tamil rebels for the city of Jaffna.

"I think the final battle is over," the general said. "We have the guerrillas hemmed in, and now we will deal with them."

But as he spoke, there was a sharp crack of rifle fire outside, followed by a series of muffled machine-gun bursts.

Suddenly the air was alive with the cacophony of war: the din of automatic rifles, more machine guns, the loud boom of an outgoing mortar and, in the distance to the north, the thud of an incoming artillery shell.

While the Indian general insisted that the battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was over, a group of foreign correspondents making their first visit to Jaffna since the Indian offensive began Oct. 10 found evidence to the contrary.

Though at least one division of the 20,000 Indian troops on this island nation has penetrated this city of 150,000 people, they clearly do not control it as they have claimed for days.

The Indian Army entered Sri Lanka as a peace-keeping force charged with guaranteeing the terms of an agreement signed July 29 by Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to end a four-year-old Tamil insurgency.

The Indian forces were to supervise the disarmament of several Tamil separatist groups that India had previously supported and to guarantee the security of the minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, against the country's Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

Indian and Sri Lankan military officers here admit that, although they vastly outnumber their Tamil opponents, the Tigers are nonetheless conducting an effective urban guerrilla war. The Indian Army has deployed some of its most elite units in the battle for Jaffna.

The officers speak of their opponents as experienced and motivated guerrillas who have used homemade mines, high-explosive booby traps and hit-and-run tactics to keep Indian troops at bay.

"They fire and run, fire and run," said Col. Tej Pratal Brar. "When we try to follow them, a third chap is waiting in a building with wires {attached} to a hidden bomb to try to blow us up.

"That is why we have had to move so slowly and cautiously," Brar said.

Kalkat said many Tamil guerrillas had fired on his troops, put away their weapons and changed into civilian clothes, then mingled with refugees to sneak through the Indian lines. Once past, the guerrillas went to new positions, where other arms were waiting for them, to attack the Indian forces from the rear.

"What makes it so hard," he said, "is that it is often hard to tell the difference between a militant terrorist and a civilian refugee."

The slow advance of Indian troops into Jaffna and the unexpected high Indian casualties led the Army to recall its commander here. The Indian Army said today that 160 soldiers have been killed, 544 wounded and 38 are missing.

While Indian briefers in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, have said that up to 607 guerrillas were killed in the past two weeks of fighting, Kalkat today was more conservative.

"We really don't know how many have been killed," he said. "But all I can say is their losses are more than ours."

It remains uncertain how many of the estimated 1,500 guerrillas who were believed to have been in Jaffna at the start of the offensive are still here. Senior Indian and Sri Lankan military officials say that the group's leaders, whom the Indians hope to arrest or kill, have escaped to the countryside with an untold number of their armed followers.

"We honestly don't know how many people we are actually facing here," Kalkat said.

A Sri Lankan official with experience fighting the Tigers told reporters that he thought the Indian Army was now fighting only a rear guard of the guerrillas.

"Personally, I think the main groups have slipped away to fight another day," said the Sri Lankan officer, who asked that his name not be used. Indian officials said yesterday that the leader of the Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, already was setting up a new headquarters near the town of Mannar, about 50 miles south of Jaffna.

India launched its offensive against Jaffna, a main Tiger stronghold, after Prabhakaran refused to disarm and his forces launched new attacks against Sinhalese civilians.

The Indian campaign in Jaffna had been expected to be swift and surgical. Instead it has proven clumsy and costly. When the Indians first came, they were greeted as saviors by the Tamils, but the drawn-out battle for Jaffna has turned many Tamil civilians against the Indian soldiers.

The city today appeared deserted, its residents having either fled or been forced by an Indian-imposed curfew to remain in their homes.

According to Indian Army officers, large parts of the city remain mined and booby-trapped, and the Army has yet to take control of a half-dozen pockets of resistance held by the guerrillas.

Areas north of the coastal fort and around Jaffna University, farther north, are considered to be among the remaining guerrilla strongholds.

While Kalkat predicted all resistance would be suppressed soon, one of his commanders was far less sanguine as the sounds of fighting resounded from a neighborhood less than 600 yards from the old fort's walls.

"I think it will take some time yet," he said, "and many more lives."