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4/23/2007

Five people killed as Sri Lanka marks New Year

Filed under: global islands,sri lanka — admin @ 6:18 am

COLOMBO — Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels shot dead five people in eastern Sri Lanka on Saturday, the military said, as the country marked the traditional New Year and the president appealed for national unity.

Gunmen from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fired at a residential neighbourhood in Eravur, in Batticaloa district, killing two people from a breakaway militant faction and three civilians, the defence ministry said.

Among those killed were a three-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, the military said, adding that police were probing the shootings.

However, Tiger rebels denied killing the five people and blamed the military for the deaths, according to the pro-rebel website Tamilnet.com. The rebels added that those who died were all civilians.

Elsewhere, in the northern district of Vavuniya, residents were preparing to bury seven Sinhalese villagers who were gunned down by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels on Thursday, according to the military. The Tigers have denied responsibility for those deaths as well.

According to defence ministry figures, an average of just under four civilians have been killed each day since April 1, as government troops remain locked in combat with the guerrillas, despite a 2002 Oslo-backed truce.

The latest killings came as both the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil community marked their common New Year.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, in his New Year message, appealed for unity in the ethnically divided nation of 19.5 million people.

“The observance of New Year traditions and rituals leads to the unity of the nation,” he said. “We should all come together to observe the New Year traditions, irrespective of all differences.”

The Tigers on Friday vowed to hit back against an advance by government troops in the east of Sri Lanka, where a breakaway faction known as the “Karuna Group” is collaborating with security forces to attack the Tigers.

The LTTE denied military claims that they were retreating in the face of an onslaught in the Eastern Province, where they were ejected from a coastal stronghold in January, and said they would retaliate “very soon.”

“As far as the LTTE is concerned we have adjusted our tactics according to the needs and we have not withdrawn from the east,” LTTE political wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan said.

“I believe only our actions in the coming period will answer the propaganda (of the government) whether the Sri Lankan military has won a stable victory,” he said in an e-mail interview with AFP.

He said the Tigers had turned the tables on government forces in the past and inflicted heavy losses, adding, “I believe similar instances will be repeated in the east very soon.”

Violence has intensified since fighting erupted last April and Colombo has blocked journalists from travelling to rebel-held areas in the island’s north, where the LTTE has its military and political headquarters.

More than 4,000 people died between December 2005 and the first week of March 2007 across the country, including 675 civilians and 1,040 security personnel, according to defence ministry figures.

The LTTE has waged a 35-year campaign for independence that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

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