Gunmen rampaged through three villages in central Sri Lanka, burning and shooting to death at least 82 Sinhalese civilians in repeated night raids, residents and military officials said Saturday.
An army officer said the killers are believed to be pro-government vigilantes seeking vengeance for the deaths of 15 soldiers' relatives killed by radicals of the Sinhalese People's Liberation Front. The gunmen wore military-style uniforms, he said.
They started the massacre Thursday in Menikhinna village, about 55 miles northeast of Colombo, the capital, according to military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. At least 50 houses in the village were torched Thursday and Friday night, said the officials.
Searchers had found 52 bodies there as of Saturday, some with gunshot wounds and others burned, they said.
The raiders also attacked neighboring Kundasala and Aranagala villages and killed 30 people, they said.
The villagers were unarmed, according to the officials.
Residents in Kandy, a few miles from Menikhinna, said at least 100 bodies have been found in the three villages, and at least 50 more people may have been killed and their bodies thrown into a nearby river.
Menikhinna is believed to be a stronghold of the People's Liberation Front, an ultranationalist guerrilla group trying to overthrow the government.
By official count, at least 5,000 people have died in the two-year-old Sinhalese revolt. The radicals began fighting to protest government concessions to minority Tamils fighting another war for an independent homeland in northeastern Sri Lanka. Sinhalese radicals also resent the deployment of Indian peacekeeping soldiers supervising a peace accord with the Tamils.
Tamils make up 18% of Sri Lanka's 16 million people and charge they are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese who control the government and military.