At least 12 workers killed in attack; Sri-Lanka on the edge of full-scale civil war

At least 12 workers - all from the country's ethnic Sinhalese majority - were killed in the attack, the latest in a series of assaults that have threatened to revive a full-scale civil war between the minority ethnic Tamils and the government, the AP reports. 

"It was about 6:30 in the evening when the attackers came," said area police leader Saman Perera, citing information from one of the workers, W.P.P. Vijayabandara, who managed to escape.

Vijayabandara said he pretended to be dead, then walked through the night and reported the massacre to police Tuesday morning.

Some of the bodies were shot through the chest and abdomen as well, he said.

The remaining worker's identity was not immediately clear, and it was not known where he was or if he had survived Monday night's attack in the eastern hamlet of Omadiamadu.

In the capital, Colombo, the army and the government blamed the attack on Tamil Tiger rebels, who denied involvement.

The Tigers - formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE - have been fighting since 1983 for a separate Tamil homeland, claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese. At least 65,000 people died before a cease-fire in 2002.

But subsequent peace talks have faltered and burgeoning violence in recent months threatens to plunge the island nation off southern India back into full-scale civil war.

The government and rebels blame each other for the renewed attacks, which have claimed more than 360 lives since April. Each side denies responsibility.

The killings at Omadiamadu are "part of a sinister plot by the LTTE to provoke a backlash so that they can justify their demand for separation," said government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella in Colombo.

The government had been paying the 14 workers to dig an irrigation canal at Omadiamadu, which is surrounded by jungles and lies near Tiger-held territory, the AP reports

Norwegian peace envoys have been struggling to persuade the government and rebels to return to peace talks suspended since 2003.

In February, the two sides held talks in Geneva on how to strengthen the cease-fire, but a second round was canceled over various disagreements. On Saturday, the rebels agreed to discuss cease-fire monitoring with the Sri Lankan government in Norway June 8-9.

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