Sri Lanka: rebels rule out peace talks

A military spokesman, denying the Web site account of the attack on the church, said rebels fired artillery when government commandos sought to flush out insurgents hiding in the building.

With hopes fading for a quick end to the latest round of clashes, soldiers and rebels backed by artillery and mortars clashed in eastern Sri Lanka and the northern Jaffna Peninsula, the heartland of the country's Tamil minority in whose name the insurgents claim to fight.

After dawn on Monday, Sri Lankan air force jets bombed the northeastern Mullaitivu district, deep inside territory controlled by the Tamil Tigers, hitting a children's home and killing 43 schoolgirls who were there taking a first aid course, the TamilNet Web site reported.

The reported attack came nearly 24 hours after the fighting around the St. Philip Neri Church in Allaipiddy, a predominantly Tamil village located on an island just west of the Jaffna Peninsula. The island is held by the government.

TamilNet said civilians had taken refuge from weekend fighting in the church, and at least 15 people were killed and another 34 wounded, 20 of them seriously, when it was hit on Sunday by rocket and artillery fire from a government position on the peninsula, according to the AP.