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Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Fresh media attack in Sri Lanka

Assaulted Sri Lankan editor Upali Tennakoon

The editor of a Sri Lankan weekly newspaper and his wife have been assaulted in Colombo in the latest of a series of attacks on journalists.

Reporters on the Rivira weekly say four men on motorcycles blocked Upali Tennakoon's car and attacked the couple with iron rods and other weapons.

The pair are in a stable condition. The attack comes two weeks after top editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was shot dead.

Meanwhile, fierce fighting continues as troops battle rebels in the north-east.

The most senior government official in Mullaitivu district, Imelda Sukumar, has told the BBC that nearly 100 civilians have been killed in the crossfire between the military and rebels since the weekend. The army has disputed her claims.

Investigation

Doctors said that Mr Tennakoon was treated for cuts to his hands and forehead. His wife also suffered cuts.

The BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan in Colombo says Rivira is not considered a pro-government or pro-rebel journal.

He says the government has condemned the attack and promised a full investigation.

Two weeks ago Mr Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper and a leading critic of the government, was shot in the head by unknown killers in Colombo.

An article said to be self-penned and published in his paper after his death blamed the government.

The government has accused the opposition of trying to gain political advantage from the murder.

Amnesty International said in November that at least 10 media employees had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

Some reporters say the intimidation has got worse as the war has intensified with the Tamil Tigers.

Bodies handed over

The Mullaitivu official, Ms Sukumar, said she returned to government-controlled areas on Thursday from rebel-held areas.

Civilians in the nort of Sri Lanka
Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in the conflict zone

She said that more than 100 civilians had been killed in the past week after being caught in artillery exchanges between the security forces and the Tamil Tigers.

She described the humanitarian situation in the north as "terrible", made worse because civilians had nowhere to go.

Ms Sukumar said both sides were to blame for the plight of civilians. She said the rebels were firing at the army from positions close to civilian areas as their territory was shrinking, while the army was returning fire.

Military spokesperson Brig Udaya Nanayakkara strongly disputed her claims.

"If she had seen many people being killed her first job should be to report to the government. Then only we can make a comment on her claims," he said.

"There is no point in talking to the media first without informing the government. However, we strongly deny that civilians were killed due to shelling by the security forces."

Pro-rebel websites say the Tigers have beaten back an army offensive in Mullaitivu, killing at least 40 soldiers. The army has also denied that claim.

There have been no independent reports from the front lines, and it is impossible to verify either side's account.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had handed over to the Tamil Tiger rebels the bodies of 11 of their fighters.

The ICRC acts as an intermediary and facilitates the exchange of bodies between the two sides.

The rebels have been battling for more than a quarter of century for a separate state for the Tamil minority.

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