/ 18 January 2008

Sri Lanka says rebels kill nine civilians in south

At least nine civilians were shot dead by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels in southern Sri Lanka, the military said on Friday, two days after 27 people were killed in a bus ambush in a nearby town.

A six-year truce between the state and rebels formally ended on Wednesday, paving the way for what analysts forecast will be a military push for the Tigers’ northern stronghold and a bloody escalation in a 25-year civil war.

”A group of LTTE cadres … killed a total of nine civilians in the Thanamalwila area on Thursday night,” said military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, adding a search operation was going on to hunt down the rebels in the area.

The Tigers were not immediately available for comment on the attacks, but routinely deny involvement.

The military said most of the 27 people killed in Wednesday’s bus ambush were shot by rebels as the passengers tried to flee, rather than in the bomb blast that struck the vehicle, and Tiger fighters shot dead six farmers while returning after the attack.

The Sri Lankan government scrapped the 2002 truce a fortnight ago, deepening fears of an escalation in the fighting.

The military said more than 40 civilians, 23 soldiers and over 200 rebels have been killed from fighting since then. About 70 000 people have been killed since the war erupted in 1983. – Reuters