TAMIL Tiger separatists began stepping up offensives in Sri Lanka's eastern district, while government troops prepared to face chemical and gas attacks, defence sources said yesterday. 'The east is the key. In the north we have no control over the population. In this war you need control over the people,' a senior officer in charge of counter-insurgency operations said. He said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) controlled the north and were trying to seize the east of the country to complete their goal of creating Eelam, a homeland for Tamil minorities. Defence sources said the military had launched a programme to educate its front-line forces on the course of action to be taken in the event of possible LTTE chemical attacks. The first chemical attack by the rebels occurred in June 1990, when LTTE fighters lobbed chemical bombs into a northern army camp. The attack resulted in several soldiers suffering lung inflammation. Ground commanders said chemical attacks would not prove effective on open army camps. Security forces were sufficiently equipped and prepared for any eventuality. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, said on clandestine Voice of Tigers radio yesterday that his cadres were making an all-out effort to regain control of the eastern province. Analysts said the rebels had used a three-month truce, which they scuttled on April 19, to re-group and re-establish themselves in the east. Military sources said large numbers of armed rebels had returned during the truce to the island's eastern province from where they had been driven out by government troops two years ago. Government forces had largely succeeded in gaining the upper hand in the east when the truce began. 'From the time the Tigers resumed hostilities they have been concentrating on the east. They want to destabilise the east,' a senior military officer said. But the task would not be easy because the armed forces were well-entrenched in the region. The east is an important recruiting ground for the rebels and a source of funds and food. The LTTE also want the strategic port of Trincomalee, one of Asia's finest natural harbours. 'The Tigers are aware that without the east they have no Eelam. If we gain full control of the east we would have destroyed the very concept of Eelam and won half the battle,' a senior military officer said.