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Tamil Villagers Return to Church for Protection

Ethnic Tamil villagers frightened by an approaching Sri Lankan military patrol took refuge Sunday in the same church where they say soldiers fired on them a day before.
( [email protected] ) Jun 19, 2006 10:18 AM EDT

PESALAI, Sri Lanka (AP) - Ethnic Tamil villagers frightened by an approaching Sri Lankan military patrol took refuge Sunday in the same church where they say soldiers fired on them a day before. Men, women and children ran from their homes and fled to a Catholic church in the remote northwestern fishing village of Pesalai as word spread of the coming patrol.

The patrol, however, stayed on the road and did not approach the church or homes. The navy said the troops were in the village to guard against rebel infiltration.

Saturday, 200 ethnic Tamils sought refuge in the church as battles erupted when rebels attacked a navy base in the village.

Several witnesses and an international aid worker gave near-identical accounts of how Sri Lankan forces fired indiscriminately in the church and around the village, killing five people, including one person inside the church.

The military denied targeting civilians and blamed the rebels for the killings.

Churches are often used as refuges amid Sri Lankan violence.

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