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Tigers kidnap 23 schoolchildren

Polonnaruwa (Sri Lanka), Dec. 19 (Reuters): Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels abducted 23 schoolchildren in Sri Lanka’s volatile east overnight, police said today, the latest in a spate of kidnappings amid renewed civil war.

Police said the rebels took the children, aged between 15 and 17, and their two teachers from an evening class in the coastal hamlet of Vinayagapuram, in the tsunami-battered eastern district of Ampara late yesterday.

The LTTE neither confirmed nor denied involvement, saying in an unusual statement that they were investigating the incident and that if any of their fighters were involved, they would be punished.

“Eighteen girls, five boys and two teachers were abducted last night,” a Special Task Force police commando official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The LTTE is behind this abduction.”

“The parents went to the LTTE-controlled area to try and find their children,” he added. Sri Lanka has been plagued by abductions this year, which have been blamed both on the Tigers and on a group of renegades led by a breakaway rebel commander called Karuna — who Nordic truce monitors suspect some elements of the military are helping.

Analysts say both rebel factions are abducting teenagers to boost their ranks as a new chapter in a two-decade civil war that has killed 67,000 people since 1983 deepens. In a separate incident, the vice chancellor of the main university in the island’s east, was abducted in Colombo last week.

The Tigers usually issue flat denials when accused of abductions or killings and have not previously hinted at any possible insubordination in their ranks.

The children were taken from within an army-held area peppered with checkpoints, and truce monitors said it was unclear who was behind the abduction. More than 3,000 civilians, troops and rebel fighters have been killed so far this year and tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes amid a rash of battles.

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