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Tamil tigresses in village slaughter

Led by "an elderly fat woman", 300 Tamil women guerrillas descended on a village in northern Sri Lanka before dawn yesterday and silently massacred 24 peoples with knives, many of them sleeping women and children. The slaughter is being interpreted by Colombo as an attempt to lure troops away from the siege of the Tamils' northern stronghold of Jaffna.

The victims were Sinhalese Buddhists, the ethnic majority in Sri Lanka. Raiders also attacked other Sinhalese villages over the past five days, killing 115 civilians.

An army spokesman said the government may arm Sinhalese who are in the civil-war battle zone. The army has poured 30,000 troops into the Jaffna peninsula to try to dislodge the Tamil Tigers from their base in Jaffna, a town of 500,000 people.

Military experts say the guerrillas, who for a decade have maintained their own fortress-state on the peninsula, are trying to draw government troops away. About 425 guerrillas - many of them children of 11 and 12 - were killed and 500 wounded in the army's eight-day offensive. Thousands of Tamils are said to be fleeing the fighting and the Tigers' leader, Velu-pillai Prabhakaran, is reported to have fled to a jungle hide-out.

The death toll has begun to cripple the Tigers, who are outnumbered by government troops by about four to one. Until now, the guerrillas only took volunteers. But after the latest casualties they are calling on parents to send their children into battle. "Your country of Tamil Eelam needs you. To save our land we need reinforcements," the Tigers urged in a recent radio broadcast.