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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Muslims killed in Sri Lanka
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

Sri Lankan Muslims flee from the attacks
Hundreds fled Tamil-Muslim riots in April
Mystery surrounds the killing of two Muslim farmers in eastern Sri Lanka - the latest in a spate of killings and kidnappings of Muslims in the region which have raised tension.

Muslim politicians have blamed the murders on the Tamil Tiger rebel group which has denied involvement.

Whoever is behind the recent killings - the motive seems to be to destabilise the ethnically mixed and volatile region.

Two Muslims were killed last week in Trincomalee district and two more kidnapped and then released.

Bodies found

In the latest incident further south in Sammanthurai in Ampara District two paddy farmers were discovered at dawn today after having been shot dead.

The police are still investigating, but the local Muslim MP, Anwar Ismail, said he was 100% sure the Tamil Tiger group had carried out the killings because they were the only armed group there.

Mr Ismail said he thought the Tigers were trying to drive Muslims out of the east and destroy their economy as they had once done in Jaffna.

But the Amparai political wing leader of the Tigers, Kuyilinpan, denied the Tigers were behind the killings, saying that relations between his organisation and Muslims in the area were good.

Instead, he suggested forces opposed to the peace process might be responsible.

Motive unclear

It is hard to see what tactical advantage the Tigers might gain from killing Muslim civilians at this point, although they have certainly been assassinating large numbers of Tamil rivals and army informers in recent months.

It is also possible these killings have nothing to do with politics.

In two recent cases murders in the east were blamed on the Tigers, but then subsequently turned out to have a purely criminal or personal motive.

But whatever the cause, Muslim politicians are now under pressure to do more to defend their community's rights in the face of a rebel group which may soon be governing eastern Sri Lanka if there is agreement with the government on an interim administration.

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