Church full of refugees hit by shells

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ARTILLERY SHELLS fell around a church full of refugees in northern Sri Lanka yesterday, killing at least 44 villagers including 13 children, in fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, a church official said.

The army blamed the Tamil Tigers for the attack in an area that has seen pitched battles in recent days between government forces and the guerrillas, who want an independent homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east. The war has spread in the past four weeks with the rebels taking new territory. The church official said it was unclear who fired the shells.

Twenty people with serious injuries were admitted to a hospital in the government-controlled town of Vavuniya, 22 miles south-west of the 17th- century Dutch-built church, where more than 3,500 people had taken shelter to escape the fighting, Bishop Rayappu Joseph said. "It was a terrible scene," he said. "We have suffered terrible losses." (AP)