Explosion on Bus in Sri Lanka kills at least 63
Shimali Senanayake for NYT,
June 15th, 2006,.
NYT June 15
- A landmine ripped through a passenger bus Thursday morning in
northern Sri Lanka, killing at least 63 people and wounding 71 others,
in the most serious attack on civilians since the government and its
ethnic rebel foes signed a ceasefire agreement four years ago.
Hours later, the government on Thursday responded with air strikes on
rebel positions in the island's northeast, according to witnesses and
officials with the guerrilla group. By late afternoon local time, the
government released no details about the aerial bombings, except to
say that the military had taken a "deterrent" measure. The government
was swift to blame the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the
mine attack on the
civilian bus, which the rebels, in turn, promptly denied, blaming the
The uncertainty now is whether Thursday's deadly sequence marks the
beginning of full-scale war. Neither side has been willing to take
responsibility for officially calling quits to the Feb. 2002 ceasefire
The twin incidents come after a deadlock in scheduled talks
between the warring parties. The government and rebel delegations
spent a week in the Norwegian capital of Oslo in what was supposed to
be a Norwegian brokered discussion limited to the role of European-led
monitors. The Tamil Tigers pulled out even before talks began. They
complained about the composition of the government delegation.
Today's violence comes after several months of sporadic violence
between soldiers, Tamil Tiger guerrillas and a breakaway faction in
the east, simply called the Karuna group. Over the last several
months, fighting has emptied villages in the northeast. A bomb went
off in a busy
market in the eastern port town of Trincomalee. The rebels, better
known here as the L.T.T.E., were accused for the attempted
assassination of Sri Lanka's army chief last April inside the heavily
headquarters here in the capital. That attack, carried out by a
suicide bomber, was also followed by a series of air strikes on rebel
posts near Sampur, on the northeastern coast.
Since April, 500 people have been killed in the conflict, mostly
civilians, according to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. Thursday's
killings represented by far the largest civilian death toll since the
2002 truce. That truce agreement, monitored by the unarmed
European-led team, is today little more than a piece of paper.
According to the Tamil Tigers, the government on Thursday bombed
rebel-held patches of Sampur, as well as Mullaitivu, both strategic
coastal installations for the Tamil Tiger naval fleet.
"As a deterrent measure to prevent similar terrorist attacks, the
security forces have taken some known LTTE targets," the Sri Lankan
military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said Thursday afternoon,
Earlier, during rush-hour Thursday morning, two so-called Claymore
mines, placed side by side, was detonated by remote control, blowing
up an overcrowded state-owned bus en route to a market town in the historic
Anuradhapura district, about 100 miles north of the capital Colombo,
Mr. Samarasinghe said. Anuradhapura's border villages were favorite
targets during the war, as it sits at the crossroads between
government and rebel-held territories.
Local police in the area said at least 63 people were killed Thursday
morning, including 15 children. Some of the bodies had to be extracted
from the mangled wreckage, they said.
Dr. Lakshman Gamalath, the director of Anuradhapura General Hospital
said 62 injured people, including at least five children, have been
nine with serious head injuries were dispatched to Colombo General Hospital.
A government minister, calling it "a barbaric terrorist act," accused
the Tamil Tigers of deliberately targeting the bus. "This was not a
mistake. There are no forces plying on this road, so it can't be
considered a mistake by the terrorists," Keheliya Rabukwella, the
policy planning minister told reporters in Colombo.
On the website of its peace secretariat, the Tamil Tigers in turn
accused the government of carrying out the bus attack, saying attacks
on civilians "cannot be justified under any circumstances."
In a major political and potentially financial blow, the European
Union placed the Tamil Tigers on its list of banned terrorist
organizations last month, following the course of the United States,
Britain and India. The Tamil diaspora in Europe is an important source
of fundraising for the Tamil Tigers.
Shimali Senanayake reported from Colombo for this article and Somini
Sengupta reported from New Delhi.
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Published: Thu Jun 15 08:44:28 EDT 2006