Muslim civilians killed as as Sri Lanka battle for water intensifies

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, Aug 3, 2006 (AFP) – At least 17 Muslim civilians were killed and another 60 wounded Thursday when shells landed on the schools in which they were sheltering during fierce fighting between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, military officials said. Local officials said troops had not managed to reopen the sluice gates as the area is heavily mined.

– by Vishaka Jayasekara The shellings, marking a bloody day for civilians in the escalating battle over water in northeastern Trincomalee district, took place in the Muslim-majority town of Muttur while troops and rebels clashed in the streets, the officials said.

At least 156 poeple have now died in fighting that began on Wednesday last week for control of a canal after the rebels shut the sluice gates and deprived thousands of families of water.

“The government must take responsibility for the killing of civilians,” Muslim leader Rauf Hakeem said. “Both sides must stop the attacks immediately and go back to the positions they had before the (2002) truce.”

He accused the government of firing the shells that fell on the schools.

“The people were killed in attacks carried out by the security forces,” Hakeem said.

The military denied the charge and accused the Tamil Tigers of fir