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US says Tiger violence poses war risk to Sri Lanka

WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - The United States on Friday condemned an attack on a Sri Lankan naval vessel by separatist Tamil Tigers, warning the violence risked returning the South Asian island nation to civil war.

"We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence by the Tamil Tigers, which has put Sri Lanka at risk of a return to war," said a statement by Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs.

"We urge the government of Sri Lanka to continue to show restraint in the face of these provocations," said the statement, issued by a spokesman for Boucher. A flotilla of Tamil Tiger rebel boats on Thursday attacked a Sri Lankan navy transport ship carrying hundreds of servicemen and sank a navy fast-attack boat in the worst military confrontation since a 2002 truce. The military said 17 sailors and 50 Tigers died in the attack that prompted airstrikes on rebel territory.

The clash came after a rash of attacks in April, one of the bloodiest months since the 2002 cease-fire halted a war that killed over 64,000 people since 1983. The Tigers are fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east.The transporter was carrying a truce monitor and flying the monitors' flag when the military says suicide rebels attacked it.

The Tigers say their fighters were conducting a naval exercise when they were fired on by the navy.The monitors accused the Tigers of a gross violation of the ceasefire and said they had no rights at sea, which is considered under government control.

Boucher called the attacks "a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers."

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