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Defense Ministry says Tamil Tiger rebels kill 10 civilians in southern Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Civil War 5925900
Sri Lankan soldiers check identity of a man in a street in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Jan. 18, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels fatally shot 10 ethnic Sinhalese civilians in southern Sri Lanka, the Defense Ministry said Friday, amid escalating violence following the government’s withdrawal from a cease-fire.
    Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara blamed the Tigers for the killings Thursday night in Thanamalwila village, 160 miles southeast of the capital, Colombo.
    Spokesmen for the rebels could not immediately be reached for comment. The Tigers, listed as a terror organization by the U.S. and European Union, routinely deny responsibility for such attacks.
    However, a pro-rebel Web site said those killed were civilians carrying guns provided by the government after an attack on a farm in the same area that killed 32 people this week. It did not say who was behind the killings.
    Nanayakkara denied that civilians had been armed.
    Violence has intensified in Sri Lanka since the government announced two weeks ago that it would scrap the six-year-old cease-fire between the government and rebels — a pact that had largely been ignored in recent years. The truce officially ended Wednesday.
    Meanwhile, Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, ended a two-day visit to Sri Lanka on Friday during which he ‘‘reaffirmed the support of the United States to Sri Lanka in defending against terrorist activity through co-operation on maritime security,’’ the U.S. Embassy said.
    Willard met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and senior military officials, and discussed U.S. help in countering the Tamil Tigers, the embassy said in a statement, without giving details.
    The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state in the north and east for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority after decades of being marginalized by Sinhalese-dominated governments. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people.
    More than 300 people have been killed in the north in the past two weeks, according to military figures.

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