Two Sri Lankan Red Cross workers found dead

Two Sri Lankan Red Cross workers abducted from the capital have been found dead with gun shot wounds to the head.

The bodies of the two ethnic Tamil men were found Saturday in Ratnapura district, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Colombo, Red Cross Director General Neville Nanayakkara said.

Nanayakkara said the two men, S. Shanmugalingam and K. Chandramohan, had been in Colombo to attend a two-day workshop.

They were waiting at a train station in Colombo on Friday for a train home, along with four other colleagues from the eastern town of Batticaloa, when they were approached by men claiming to be police, he said.

Nanayakkara said the men, dressed in civilian clothing, checked their identity cards and then took Shanmugalingam and Chandramohan away, saying they needed to be questioned.

The other four insisted they would also wait at the police station until the questioning was over, but the men drove off in a white car, he said.

"Yesterday, I saw some television reporting that two bodies were found and I had my doubts, so I sent two officers today to Ratnapura hospital and they identified the bodies," Nanayakkara said.

"They had been shot through the head," he said.

Hundreds of people have been abducted in the capital and the island's north and east in recent months amid a deepening conflict between ethnic Tamil rebels and the government.

Aid workers have been increasingly targeted during the conflict and the execution-style killing of 17 local workers of the international aid group Action Against Hunger last August, in the eastern town of Muttur, drew widespread international attention.

Meanwhile, clashes between the army and rebels erupted Saturday in three areas along the de facto border separating rebel- and government-held territory, Lt. Col. Upali Rajapakse, a senior military official said.

In northern Vavuniya district, the two sides exchanged heavy artillery and mortar fire as troops pre-empted an attempt by the insurgents to infiltrate across the defense line, Rajapakse said Sunday.

The ensuing battle killed three soldiers and wounded 20 others, he said, adding that reports from the area confirmed that rebel fighters suffered heavy casualties.

However, the rebels said they destroyed a key government artillery position and weapons depot during the battle. Rajapakse did not offer an immediate comment on the rebels' claim.

"Storage and artillery units were destroyed and were burning till dawn," rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan told The Associated Press by phone from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.

No rebel losses were sustained and the number of military casualties was unknown, he said.

Separately on Saturday, soldiers killed two rebels who infiltrated the defense line near Muhamalai on northern Jaffna peninsula, the military said. In northern Mannar district, army troops guarding the border killed two Tamil rebels, Rajapakse said.

Sri Lanka's undeclared war continues to worsen despite a 2002 cease-fire that remains officially in place. Since the Norwegian-brokered truce began crumbling in December 2005, more than 5,000 people have been killed, according to European cease-fire monitors.

Tamil Tiger rebels have fought government troops since 1983 to create a separate homeland for the country's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority, who have suffered decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

Some 70,000 people have died in the conflict.