Military: Rebels Massacre 65 Sinhalese Civilians
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Tamil rebels attacked three villages in northeastern Sri Lanka today and killed at least 65 civilians, the military said.
The rebels have been fighting for a homeland for 12 years, claiming that the majority Sinhalese discriminate against the minority Tamils. The military launched an offensive this week to capture Jaffna, the rebels’ stronghold in the north.
``The rebels are attacking Sinhalese civilians in desperation to force the army to move troops from the north to the east,″ said Maj. Tilak Dunuwille, a military spokesman.
The rebels have often used similar tactics to divert military offensives.
On Friday, rebels blew up storage tanks at the country’s two main oil depots in Colombo, the capital. Twenty-six people died in fighting at the depots on Friday, and gun battles continued today, killing three civilians in the cross-fire.
The government said two rebels have been arrested and two have surrendered. Authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Colombo today to prevent mobs of Sinhalese from looting shops and houses of Tamils.
Black plumes of smoke rose from the depots as firefighters battled to contain the blaze, which sent thousands of people fleeing in panic. Firefighters from neighboring India have come to help extinguish the blazes.
The military did not let either attack halt its offensive toward Jaffna, 185 miles north of Colombo, which entered its fifth day today. More than 35,000 troops are pushing toward the rebel stronghold. At least 89 soldiers and 151 rebels have been killed.
``We will not stop the offensive until we destroy the (rebels) and liberate the Tamil people,″ Anuruddha Ratwatte, the deputy defense minister, said Friday.
Today’s massacres were the rebels’ deadliest attack on civilians since 1992, when 166 Muslims were massacred in north-central Sri Lanka.
Thirty-two bodies _ including men, women and children _ were found shot and hacked to death in Bowatte, 125 miles east of Colombo, Dunuwille said. Eleven people were injured in the rebels’ early-morning raid.
In Kolakanawadiya, 140 miles northeast of Colombo, at least 17 people were killed in another attack, police said. No details were available.
And in Mangalagama, 125 miles east of Colombo, at least 16 villagers, including five children, were killed in an attack at 2 a.m.
Nearly 36,000 people have been killed since the rebels, the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam, began their campaign for a Tamil homeland in 1983.
Tamils, who comprise 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 17 million people, claim they suffer discrimination from the majority Sinhalese, who control the government and the military.