APRIL 5 2007 13:53h

Sri Lanka Says Rebels Kill 4 Farmers, Bomb Defused


Tamil Tiger rebels shot dead four Sri Lankan farmers in the island's northeast, the third attack on civilians in a week.

Troops also found and defused a powerful bomb north of the capital.

The shootings in the north-central district of Polonnaruwa, near a swathe of jungle where troops are fighting Tiger insurgents, were the latest in a spree of extrajudicial killings and attacks.

"Three farmers were shot dead on the spot and another later succumbed to his injuries," said military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe. "About eight Tigers have come and shot them while they were cultivating paddy."

Samarasinghe said five people were arrested just north of the capital, Colombo, in a separate incident after a tip-off led troops to a 10 kg Claymore mine, which suspected Tigers have used in many attacks.

"It was hidden in an office. Four Tamils and a Sinhalese girl have been arrested. The bomb has been defused and taken away."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are seeking to carve out an independent state in the north and east for minority Tamils, were not immediately available for comment on either incident.

The shootings come after suspected Tiger rebels bombed a civilian bus on Monday, killing 16 people -- most of them women and children -- and after six civilians working on a post-tsunami construction project in the east were shot dead on Sunday.

More than 4,000 troops, civilians and rebels have been killed in the past 15 months alone. Human rights groups are calling for an international human rights monitoring mission to curb abuses blamed on both sides.