200 civilians killed in two months of fighting in Sri Lanka

At least 200 civilians have been killed in two months of fighting between Sri Lankan soldiers and separatist Tamil rebels in the country's north and east and both sides are to blame, European cease-fire monitors said Thursday.

Since large-scale hostilities broke out in late July, "over 200 civilians have been killed and several thousands are internally displaced, creating a serious humanitarian crisis," the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a report sent to the government and Tamil Tiger leaders.

The monitors accused both sides of serious violations of the cease-fire, including risking civilian lives, creating a refugee crisis, denying people access to food and blocking the entry of monitors and aid workers into conflict areas for investigations and to help trapped civilians.

The monitors said "the gravity of the violations have led to a dangerous escalation in hostilities."

"It is important that the parties realize the seriousness of the current situation and do whatever there is in their power to move forward instead of engaging in military confrontation," the monitors said in a statement.

The fighting started with the government starting an offensive in eastern Sri Lanka to open an irrigation reservoir closed by the Tamil Tiger rebels. As the conflict spread to other areas, the government captured some strategic territories held by the rebels in the north and east.

At least 1,000 combatants and civilians were killed and some 220,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

The execution-style killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers of Action Against Hunger last month and the hacking deaths of 10 Muslim laborers on Sept. 17 in eastern Sri Lanka were among the worst incidents of violence against the civilians.

Investigations into these killings have so far been inconclusive, reports AP.

Foreign diplomats are struggling to revive a Norway-brokered cease-fire and a peace process severely undermined by the fighting.

The Tamil rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's largest ethnic minority, citing decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. About 66,000 people died in nearly two decades of violence before the 2002 cease-fire.

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