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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK

World: South Asia

Mass burial for Sri Lanka victims

The victims were from the majority Sinhalese community

Thousands of mourners have attended a mass funeral in eastern Sri Lanka for 48 civilians killed in a pre-dawn raid by suspected Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo: "Huge crowds lined the streets as the coffins were taken in procession"
There was heavy security at the ceremony in Gonagala village in Ampara district, 200km (120 miles) east of the capital Colombo.

Six other people, killed in two nearby villages the same night, were buried separately.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga blamed the Tamil Tigers for the attack, but there was no reaction from the guerrilla group.

Mass burial

[ image:  ]
Armed police and soldiers guarded the burial ground where Buddhist monks performed the last rites.

"Everyone along the route wept as the coffins were taken in procession to the cemetery," a local resident told French news agency AFP.

Reports say the attack was carried out by women fighters.

The villagers were hacked to death with axes, knives and machetes. One family lost 14 of its members. Ten children died in massacre.

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

The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed its concern over the targeting of civilians.

Soldiers rushed in

The attack was strongly condemned by President Kumaratunga.

[ image: President Kumaratunga blamed the Tigers]
President Kumaratunga blamed the Tigers
"I was deeply saddened to hear [of] the cruel, barbaric attack of the Tiger terrorists," she said.

"Such slaughter on innocents carried out by barbaric terrorists who do not know human values will be condemned by all peace loving people," she said.

Additional forces have been rushed to the area and a junior defence minister is reported to have visited the site.

Officials believe the attacks were probably in retaliation for the deaths of 21 Tamil civilians killed by the air force last week.

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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