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Bus bombings in Sri Lanka kill 23; government blames rebels

Bus bombings in Sri Lanka kill 23; government blames rebels

Sri Lanka's military blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels after bombs killed 23 people on two passenger buses, one packed with morning commuters near the heavily fortified capital, in what experts said marks an acceleration of attacks on civilians.
Sixty-seven people were wounded in the attacks that came two days after another bombing targeting civilians in the capital city of Colombo.
No one claimed responsibility, but authorities blamed the separatist Tamil Tigers, who have in the past made such attacks a hallmark of their 25-year fight against Sri Lanka's government.
"This could be the start of a worsening cycle of targeting civilians," said Jehan Perera of National Peace Council, an independent activist group based in Sri Lanka.
Perera said that the attacks were likely a "tit-for-tat kind of retaliation" by the rebels, who accuse the military of killing minority ethnic Tamil civilians in air raids and mine attacks. The government has always denied allegations that it targets civilians.
Perera said, however, that "the government must also be careful with its own operations."
The Tamil Tigers did not comment on the attacks. If they were responsible, such actions _ especially the one near the capital _ would show their ability to strike deep inside government territory despite heavy security.
The first bomb was detonated along a roadside at about 7:35 a.m. (0535 GMT) in the Colombo suburb of Moratuwa as a passenger bus went by, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara. It killed 21 people and wounded 47 others, Nanayakkara said, blaming the Tamil Tigers for the attack.
A curfew was imposed in the area so security forces could search for suspected rebels, Nanayakkara said, adding that it was lifted later in the day.
The explosion shattered the vehicle's windows and peppered it with shrapnel. A man who identified himself only as Nalaka said the blast threw him from his motorcycle.
"When I got up I saw the bus and quickly got into it. Some people lay dead. Some others were bleeding," the 45-year-old told AP Television News.
Hours later a second bomb tore through a bus in the hills of the country's central Kandy district, killing two passengers and wounding 20 other people, said police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa told Sri Lankans to "remain vigilant against the forces of terror."
With much of the government-rebel fighting taking place near rebel-held territory hundreds of miles (kilometers) north of the capital, the recent attacks have shaken the south _ home to most of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority _ and left residents fearing more could come.
"I don't know how this war is being fought in the north. I see that only on the television. But it now seems the war has come to the capital," said Roshan Dhammika, a 30-year-old who drives a motorized rickshaw.
The recent attacks seemed to boost already strong support for the war among people in Colombo.
"What else can you do against a ruthless terrorist group? The LTTE now wants to stop operations in the north as they are suffering defeats. That's why they target civilians," said Ganesh Wijenayake, a 45-year-old businessman in Colombo. LTTE is an acronym for the Tamil Tigers.
The guerillas have been blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians and are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and India.
They are believed by Sri Lankan authorities to have been behind a blast Wednesday that targeted a passenger train in Colombo and wounded 19 people.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, marginalized by successive Sinhalese-controlled governments. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
A long-standing peace process broke down nearly two years ago. Since then, fighting between the rebels and government forces has steadily escalated.
The Tamil Tigers run a de facto state in part of the north, and the government says it plans to completely crush them by the end of the year.
Since this year began bombings have killed more than 200 civilians in rebel and government territory, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Tamil Tigers were blamed for a passenger train bomb attack that killed eight people and wounded 70 others last month near Colombo.
Another bombing deep in rebel-held territory killed 16 people last month.


Updated : 2021-06-24 20:48 GMT+08:00