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Saturday, September 18, 1999 Published at 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK

World: South Asia

Sri Lanka rebels kill 50

Siriyawathi Kolabege grieves for her dead family in Gonegalle

Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels - many of them women - attacked three villages in eastern Sri Lanka early on Saturday, killing at least 50 people.

Sri Lanka Correspondent Susannah Price: "The attack seems to have been carefully planned"
The International Committee of the Red Cross said 46 villagers had been hacked to death with machetes and knives in an attack in Gonegalle village in Amapara district, some 200km (120 miles) north of the capital, Colombo.

Four others were killed in two other villages, the Red Cross said.

The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, has condemned the attack and said the victims families would be compensated.

Officials believe the attacks were probably in retaliation for the deaths of 21 civilians earlier in the week.

"The attackers broke down the doors of the huts and entered while the police were sleeping. They hacked and chopped to death the victims, some of them still lying in bed," local MP Yasendra Bakmeewewa told Reuters.

Three people, including a member of the home guard, were killed in rebel attacks on two other villages in the region, police said.

The villagers all came from Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese community.

The victims included 17 women, seven children and 23 men, an Ampara hospital official said.

Five villagers wounded in the attack were admitted for treatment, the official said.

One report quoted a doctor at the hospital as saying the victims had gunshot wounds as well as slashes and cuts.

A senior local police official said he feared the death toll could rise further.

Soldiers and police reinforcements are being sent to the area.

Air strikes

The attacks followed rebel accusations that the Sri Lankan air force had killed 21 Tamil refugees in air strikes on a northeastern village last Wednesday.

The Sri Lankan Government said civilians had not been the intended target of the air attack on the Tamil Tiger-held district of Mullaitivu, but some may have been killed inadvertently.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east since 1983.

The war has claimed over 55,000 lives.

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