village, where hundreds of Tamils were taking shelter, survivors and witnesses told reporters.

The attack in Pesalai reportedly came after men, women and children ran from their homes and morning meals to Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church, as Sri Lankan troops planned to invade the village. The names of the victims were not immediately released. 

Churches are often used as refuges in this part of Sri Lanka, where clashes are frequent between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels seeking to create an independent homeland for ethnic Tamils, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The government denied killing civilians, and blamed the Tigers for the attack. But AP quoted witnesses and an international aid worker as saying Sri Lankan forces were responsible for the deaths.


"All the people now are only in a mood to flee at the sight of uniforms," said a fishermen who identified himself as Raja, the only person in the village willing to give his name.

"Although there has been big fighting in the past nothing of this kind has happened in this church," Raja added. The reported attack came as the island nation appeared to stumble closer toward all-out war after the worst violence since an often-violated cease-fire signed in 2002 by the government and the rebel group Tamil Tigers.

The rebels, formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have been fighting for more than two decades to create a homeland for the country’s 3.2 million predominantly Hindu Tamils, a minority that some say has faced decades of discrimination by the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority.


The civil war killed more than 65,000 people before the cease-fire, and as talks to build on the truce have faltered, sporadic shootings and bombings in and around Tiger strongholds have escalated into near-daily violence.

Sri Lanka’s military unleashed retaliatory strikes on rebel positions for a bus bombing last week that killed 64 people, including children. The government blamed the Tigers for the bombing, but rebels denied involvement.

Christians are increasingly in the crossfire in Sri Lanka, where there have been also attacks against churches by militant Buddhist, objecting to the spread of Christianity in the country, BosNewsLife established. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Sri Lanka). 


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