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DATE=11/21/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SRI LANKA CHURCH ATTACK (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-256403 BYLINE=VANDANA CHOPRA DATELINE=COLOMBO CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: At least 35 civilians were killed and more than 60 wounded in an attack on a 400-year-old Catholic shrine in Northern Sri Lanka. Vandana Chopra has the details from Colombo. TEXT: Government Military officials say Tiger rebels fired mortars and artillery indiscriminately at the church in Madhu in the Northern Wanni region, Saturday. A statement from the church did not fix blame for the attack. The bishop of Mannar said that a large number of refugees were in the Dutch-built church to escape the fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels. Church officials said the dead included at least 13 children who were sleeping in a chapel in the shrine complex when the shells hit. Church authorities says besides destruction to the Sacred Heart chapel, a section of the main shrine had also suffered extensive damage. They say the holy shrine had come under artillery fire on Saturday when some 300 government soldiers were in the compound area. The Catholic Bishop's conference of Sri Lanka has appealed to the military and the rebels to withdraw from the area around the shrine and refrain from using it for any strategic and political advantage. Last week, Tiger guerillas said they had taken control of the area around the Madhu church, but Sunday's government ministry statement said the rebels had been pushed out of the area by Saturday. On Sunday the government military vacated the area at the request of the church. Since last month fighting has intensified in the Northern Wanni region, with the guerillas capturing key military bases. Tiger guerillas have been fighting for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka's North and East since 1983.(Signed) NEB/VC/PLM 21-Nov-1999 04:32 AM EDT (21-Nov-1999 0932 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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