Rebel official says 45 people die in attacks on rebel-controlled east Sri Lanka
Wed November 8, 2006 05:03 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ At least 45 Tamils were killed and 125 wounded Wednesday when government forces bombarded a Tamil rebel-held region in northeastern Sri Lanka where Tamil civilians had taken refuge to escape fighting, a senior rebel official said.
``It was a big attack and we have 45 dead bodies,'' Seevaratnam Puleedevan, who heads the rebels' Peace Secretariat, told The Associated Press by satellite phone. Puleedevan said 125 people were also wounded, some seriously.
He said the victims were Tamil civilians who had sought refuge in a school after a previous battle between government troops and the guerrillas.
Wednesday's attack was the second-worst in terms of Tamil civilian casualties since the signing of a truce in 2002. On Aug. 14, an air raid allegedly killed 61 Tamil girls in the rebel stronghold Mullaitivu. At the time, the government said it had proof that the site was a rebel base, although rebels said the victims were school girls undergoing first aid training.
The worst single attack suffered by the Sri Lankan military was on Oct. 16, when a rebel suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed truck into a military bus convoy in central Sri Lanka, killing at least 95 sailors and wounding more than 150.
Jehan Perera of National Peace Council, an independent think tank, warned that the incident may further worsen relations between the two sides and make any further cooperation ``unrealistic.''
``It shows that the government is placing its reliance on a military option. The government must think again because the cost to the civilian population is very high,'' Perera said.
Military spokesman, Brig. Samarasinghe said exchange of artillery has been continuing in the area for the last few days. ``This morning, they (rebels) intensified their artillery attack, five of our soldiers were also wounded. We also retaliated to their attacks,'' he said.
Samarasinghe said he was not aware of the casualties in the rebel-held area and claimed the rebels were using civilians as human shields.
``Ground and technical sources confirm that tiger terrorists are using civilians as a human shield amid heavy artillery and mortar fire between the LTTE and the Security Forces,'' the Defense Ministry said on its Web site, calling the rebel group by the initials of its formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The rebels verbally hit back.
``The mindless and cruel attack on a helpless refugee population which has already been subjected to blockades of all sorts of essential items is difficult to understand,'' the rebels said on their Web site.
``Is it possible that the Sri Lankan military's intention was to teach the Tamils the lesson that they, the military, can kill refugees in such numbers, and no one can stop them?''
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, a group of foreigners overseeing the 2002 cease-fire, has said 1,076 civilians have been killed in violence in Sri Lanka since early this year.
Helen Olafsdottir, acting spokeswoman for the mission, said a group of monitors were on their way to investigate Wednesday's incident. But she refused to comment further.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka, citing discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. More than 65,000 people were killed before a 2002 cease-fire. An upsurge in violence this year has killed more than 2,000 people, including civilians, soldiers and rebel fighters.
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Published: Wed Nov 8 05:36:06 EST 2006