At least 86 civilians, including five Buddhist nuns, were massacred Tuesday when Tamil guerrillas disguised as soldiers drove into the heartland of the Sinhalese majority and staged the bloodiest attack of their separatist campaign, the government said.
It reported that at least 100 others were wounded in Anuradhapura, a sacred Buddhist city 125 miles north of Colombo.
A group called the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” claimed responsibility. The Tigers are one of half a dozen guerrilla groups fighting to set up a separate state in Northern and Eastern provinces for the island’s minority Hindu Tamils, most of whom live there.
Official sources said at least 25 women, six children and five Buddhist nuns were among those who died.
In the first major intrusion into the majority Sinhalese North Central province, the guerrillas drove into the city in a bus and opened fire on a crowd at a bus stop. Police said they then drove to the “Sri Mahabodhi,” a sacred tree visited by hundreds of Buddhists every day, and sprayed bullets into the crowd.
The government said that after the massacre at Anuradhapura, the guerrillas drove to Puttalam on the northwest coast and fired at a police station, wounding an officer. The shooting spree continued at a nearby game sanctuary at Wilpattu, where they kidnaped the ranger after killing five Wildlife Department employees.
In a national broadcast, the government appealed to people to remain calm and not to believe rumors. “The main objective of this brutal massacre of civilians by the terrorists was to provoke people in other parts of the country,” it said.
The government imposed a 16-hour curfew and said security forces have launched a manhunt to capture the guerrillas.
Teams of doctors and nurses and emergency medical supplies were flown from Colombo to Anuradhapura hospitals.