Tamil Rebels Claim 76 Men Massacred by Soldiers and Rival Tamils
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The Tamil Tiger rebel group has accused government troops and members of a rival Tamil group of dragging 76 Tamil men out of their cars and homes and massacring them in eastern Sri Lanka.
Military officials and a spokesman for the rival group denied the allegation today, but residents of a nearby town said they had heard reports of a massacre from people who fled the area.
The residents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were told some people had been shot to death while others were burned alive with blazing tires around their necks.
In another development, military officials said the Tigers had ambushed a military patrol today near the northeastern port of Trincomalee, killing five ethnic Sinhalese soldiers.
Some rebels were thought to have died in the 90-minute gunbattle that followed the ambush, the officials said. They gave no numbers.
The Tigers, in a statement issued by their office in London late Monday night, claimed ″a terrible massacre″ was carried out Friday by Sri Lankan army troops from an army camp at Neelavenai.
The Tigers accused a rival group, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, of collaborating in the alleged massacre.
Military officials in Colombo denied their men were responsible for any such killings.
The officials said the Tigers often made such statements in an attempt to justify upcoming attacks on the army or Sinhalese civilians.
Tamil guerrillas launched a violent separatist campaign against the country’s Sinhalese ethnic majority and Sinhalese-controlled government in 1983. More than 14,000 people have died during the insurgency.
The Tigers statement claimed 76 Tamil men were killed at Neelavenai, 9 miles south of the eastern coastal town of Batticaloa. The statement listed names and ages of 14 purported victims but gave no details of the others it alleged were killed.
Senathirajah Lawrence, spokesman for the Tamil Eeelam Liberation Organization, denied his group had anything to do with a massacre.
Lawrence’s group was once allied with the Tigers, but says its men have given up armed struggle in favor of a political solution.
″We don’t operate anywhere near the Neelavenai village,″ Lawrence said when contacted by telephone in Colombo. ″This is a canard spread by the (Tigers).″
Residents of Batticaloa, 135 miles east of Colombo, said Tamils who fled Neelavenai reported that about 70 people were killed. The residents, contacted by telephone, said they were not sure who was responsible.
The Tigers broke a cease-fire with the government six months ago. After several offensives, the government controls Batticaloa and other major towns in the east. The Tigers still operate in the jungles and are in control of the northern Jaffna Peninsula.
The Tigers say Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority needs a separate homeland to protect it from discrimination by the Sinhalese in jobs and education. Sinhalese make up 75 percent of the island nation’s 16 million people.