Tamil gunmen rampaged through five fishing villages, butchering Muslims in the street with machine-gun fire and machetes, military officials said Sunday. They said that at least 119 people were slain.
The killings were the latest in a round of intensifying ethnic violence that pits Tamil separatists against the Sinhalese-dominated government and Sinhalese and Muslim civilians.
Although Muslims claim neutrality in the war, the government says that Tamils suspect them of siding with the army.
A Tamil politician said that Saturday night's attacks were in retaliation for the killing of 33 Tamil villagers by Muslims earlier Saturday. But a spokesman for the Tamil Tigers guerrilla group denied responsibility for the killings.
At least 450 villagers have been killed on the once-tranquil island nation's east coast in a wave of reprisal violence in the last nine days.
The victims include 305 Muslims, 85 Tamils and 60 Sinhalese, according to military officials and politicians.
In Eravur, one of the villages hit in Saturday night's attack, puddles of blood were on the sidewalk. Women implored visitors to help keep them safe, and young men surrounded army officers demanding weapons.
"They have killed everybody," one weeping woman told a delegation of Muslim politicians and soldiers. "There is no one to look after us. Please don't leave."
Led by Muslim religious leaders, villagers gathered up corpses in trucks for a mass burial. Residents and military officials on Sunday said that in addition to at least 119 fatalities in the five villages, another 40 people were injured.
Brig. Upali Seneviratne, the top army officer in the province, said at least 40 Tamil gunmen attacked the villages.
After a 90-minute raid on Eravur, the gunmen moved to adjacent villages, military officials said. One of the villages is called Saddam Hussein, named after the Iraqi leader who sent construction aid several years ago.
Sri Lanka Violence Rebels kill at least 119 Muslims