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5 Slain as Troops and Rebels Clash in Sri Lankan Village

June 18, 2006|From the Associated Press

MANNAR, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan troops in boats and helicopters battled Tamil rebels Saturday, and witnesses accused government forces of opening fire in a fishing village, killing five people -- one inside a church -- and wounding dozens.

The surging violence heightened fears that the island nation was moving toward a return to all-out civil war. The last several days have seen the worst bloodshed since a 2002 cease-fire between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which controls much of Sri Lanka's north and east.

Tamil Tiger rebels said they had killed 12 soldiers; the navy said three sailors were dead and eight were missing. The military said as many as 30 rebels were killed, but the Tamil Tigers acknowledged only two wounded.

Saturday's bloodshed started when rebels attacked a navy base in the northwestern fishing village of Pesalai, triggering battles that forced about 200 ethnic Tamils to seek refuge in a Roman Catholic church.

Several witnesses and an international aid worker gave near-identical accounts of how Sri Lankan forces fired indiscriminately in the church and around the village.

"We were all inside the church when the navy and army broke in and opened fire. A grenade was thrown inside through a window," said Mariyadas Loggu, 46, who was being treated for hand injuries at a hospital in Mannar, near Pesalai.

One person was killed in the church, and four were slain while returning from fishing, witnesses said. A reporter at the hospital counted 47 wounded.

A senior police official said at least three officers were killed today when a police vehicle transporting water struck an antipersonnel mine in north-central Vavuniya district.

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