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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sri Lankan military kills 45 Tamils

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Government forces bombarding rebels with artillery hit a school where scores of civilians had taken refuge Wednesday from the fighting, killing at least 45 Tamils and wounding 125 in Sri Lanka, a senior rebel official said.

Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said he was not aware of the casualties in the rebel-held area and accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields.

"It was a big attack and we have 45 dead bodies," Seevaratnam Puleedevan, a top rebel official, told The Associated Press by satellite phone. Puleedevan said 125 people also were wounded. Among the dead were six infants, the rebels said.

Human rights group Amnesty International condemned the incident and called for an independent inquiry, saying there was an urgent need to "respond to the dramatic deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation."

"It is appalling that the military should attack a camp for displaced people — these are civilians who have already been forced from their homes because of the conflict," Amnesty's Asia Pacific Director Purna Sen said.

A doctor attending the wounded said most had broken bones and deep wounds caused by shrapnel. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals.

All the dead and wounded were civilians from Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, in whose name the Tigers say they are fighting the government, dominated by the island nation's Sinhalese majority, rebels said.

Fighting continued on Thursday when Tamil Tigers attacked a Sri Lankan military post in northern Jaffna, killing one soldier and wounding two others, the Defense Ministry said.

Samarasinghe, the military spokesman, said Wednesday there had been a days-long artillery exchange in the area. "This morning, they (rebels) intensified their artillery attack, five of our soldiers were also wounded. We also retaliated to their attacks," he said.

Wednesday's reported attack would be the second-deadliest for Tamil civilians since a truce was signed 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.

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 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 the truce. An upsurge in violence this year has killed more than 2,000 people, including civilians, soldiers and rebel fighters.
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