160 die in Sri Lanka massacre

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The Independent Online
COLOMBO (Reuter) - Tamil separatist rebels shot or hacked to death at least 160 people in pre- dawn raids on four Sri Lankan villages yesterday, in the deadliest rebel attack in the past two years, army officers said.

Some 141 civilians, eight soldiers and 11 policemen died in the attacks by about 150 rebels in the northern Polonnaruwa district, a military spokesman, Sarath Munasinghe, said. 'Troops are searching the jungles in case there are any missing persons,' he told reporters, adding that many children were among the dead.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam guerrillas, fighting for a separate homeland in north and east Sri Lanka, were responsible for the slaughter, Col Munasinghe said, adding that troops had since taken control of the four villages.

The massacre victims were found in the villages of Palliyagodella, Agbopura and Ahmedpura, a senior officer from the district said. A fourth village, Pamburawa, also came under attack but no one was killed. Col Munasinghe said 88 people were injured in the district. Other officers said that the death toll would rise, because some of the injured were in a critical condition.

Three of the villages were occupied by minority Muslims, while Agbopura had a mixed population of Muslims and mainly Buddhist Sinhalese. Two army helicopters and two fighter planes fired on the rebels as they retreated from the villages and killed 10, Col Munasinghe said.

The Tigers, mostly Hindus, have in the past attacked Sinhalese and Muslim villages to drive their occupants from the area. Muslim officials rushed to the area to try to pre-empt any retaliation against the nearest Tamil village, as has happened in the past.

At least 25,000 people have died in the nine-year war between the rebels and the troops. This year, the army has lost 800 men in ambushes and from landmines.