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More than 30 Tamils killed in revenge attack

By IQBAL ATHAS

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Attackers armed with swords, knives and axes boarded a ferry, killing 31 Tamils in apparent revenge for a massacre of more than 170 people by Tamil separatists, a government official said today.

Minister of National Seurity Lialith Athulathmudali said six men hacked and stabbed the ferry passengers, many of whom drowned after jumping into the deep waters of Palk Straits that separates Sri Lanka and India.

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Twenty-four bodies were recovered from a nearby beach, the minister said. According to reports reaching Colombo, many of the injured passengers leapt overboard to escape from the attackers Wednesday. At least 30 people were injured.

The reports also said survivors claimed the men were naval personnel, but Athulathmudali said, 'there is no evidence to suggest who is involved.'

He said the police had been asked to conduct an investigation.

The ferry was between the islands of Delft and Pungudutivu off the Jaffna peninsula, a stronghold of Tamil militants waging a guerrilla war for a separate state.

The ferry attackers were apparently seeking revenge for attacks by Tamils Tuesday in Anuradhapura, in which 173 people were killed and more than 300 injured, according to incomplete reports. The separatists, who sprayed gunfire indiscriminately from vehicles, were reportedly seeking revenge for an alleged army massacre.

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The mostly Hindu Tamils say they suffer discrimination from the Buddhist Sinhalese, who make up the majority of Sri Lanka's 15 million people. Militant Tamils want independence in the northern and eastern provinces of the Indian Ocean island once known as Ceylon.

Parliament scheduled a special session to discuss Tuesday's slaughter in and around the sacred Buddhist town of Anuradhapura, 130 miles north of the capital Colombo.

Police said rioters attacked four shops owned by ethnic Tamils Wednesday in Anuradhapura, where Tuesday's massacre occurred. At least two bodies of Tamils were seen in the street. Sinhalese also threw rocks at Tamil-owned shops in two towns outside of Colombo.

Naval vessels patrolled the coastline to cut off escape routes of fleeing Tamil guerrillas, army commander Maj. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne said.

A curfew was clamped on Anuradhapura, but funeral processions passed through the streets. Mourners riding on a tractor were seen ridiculing a convoy of troops and police, apparently for failing to protect them.

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