37 killed at Madhu church
[TamilNet, Sunday, 21 November 1999, 09:14 GMT]
Thirty seven civilians were killed and sixty four wounded when shells hit Madhu church amidst fighting between Sri Lankan Army units that had taken up positions in the environs of the Madhu shrine and the Liberation Tigers.
International aid agency sources in Madhu said that 33 refugees who had sought shelter in the precincts of the Church were killed on the spot by shells. Four died on the way to Vavuniya hospotal they said.
The SLA had advanced into Madhu yesterday under cover of an intense artillery and mortar barrage yesterday from Thallady and positions south of Madhu on the Vavuniya-Mannar road.
Heavy fighting had broken out when the Tigers had counterattacked the SLA units that had attempted to move further up the road from Madhu to Palampiddy with heavy artillery and mortar fire support. The SLA had retreated due to the counter attack according to unconfirmed reports from Madhu.
The refugees were killed and wounded when a chapel was hit by shells, they said.
The SLA said the LTTE had shelled the church.
Church sources quoted refugees as saying retreating SLA troops had turned a tank gun and fired three shells into the church.
Many of the wounded had bled to death as the location had not been accessible for more than four hours due to the military situation according to aid workers.
The SLA was attempting to defend its positions in and around the Madhu church precincts sources in the area said.
More than 3000 refugees had sought safety in the precincts of the Madhu shrine when the SLA advance had begun said church sources.
The Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph has called on all combatants to immediately leave the Madhu church and its environs.
Meanwhile aid workers in Vavuniya said the main hospital there is operating with a skeleton staff and is severely short of blood.