Sri Lanka defense secretary escapes suicide attack; three dead, 14 wounded
Fri December 1, 2006 06:41 EST .
By DILIP GANGULY
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - A suicide bomber targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying Sri Lanka's defence secretary and other security officials in the capital Friday, killing himself, two soldiers and wounding 14 others, the military said.
Soon after the blast, police and other security men opened fire. The body of an unidentified man lay at the scene with gunshot wounds. A car caught fire as a result of the blast, an AP photographer at the scene said.
The government blamed the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels for the attack which appeared to target the island's defence secretary, who is also the president's brother, and who escaped unhurt.
"Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse escaped unharmed when an LTTE suicide killer, targeted the convoy of vehicles in which he was travelling," a government statement said, using the acronym for the rebels' official name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said the bomber triggered the explosives as the five-car convoy of vehicles was passing. Samarasinghe confirmed that Rajapakse, who is the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, was in one of the cars.
"He is safe, no harm has come to him," Samarasinghe said. Minutes after the blast, the government released photographs of the president hugging his brother, who in another photo showed photographers the blood spatters on his white shirt.
Military said two soldiers died while nine others and five civilians were hospitalized with varying degree of injuries.
The suicide bomber apparently approached on a motorized rickshaw from the opposite direction and targeted the convoy, said Deputy Inspector General of Police, Jayantha Wickremeratne.
Rajapakse, a retired military colonel, was in a bulletproof car, which was flanked by two motorcycle escorts.
At the blast site, a popular thoroughfare, there was the stench of human flesh and blood was splattered over the area, suggesting some of the wounded may have been badly hurt.
Meanwhile, the United States condemned Friday's blast, which it said bore "all the hallmarks" of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
"We once again call on the LTTE to renounce terrorism, to give up violence and to join in negotiating a peaceful solution to Sri Lankas conflict," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
Colombo has been under tight security for several months over fears of possible attacks by the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
Separately, a roadside bomb blast killed two police in northern Jaffna peninsula, an official at the Media Centre for National Security said.
President Rajapakse appointed his brother to the post after coming to power last year.
Secretary Rajapakse provided the Sri Lankan army with new weapons to help their fight against the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Suicide bombings are a hallmark of the Tamil Tiger rebels, who say they are fighting to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority.
The Tigers have been fighting for over 20 years, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
The government says it is willing to give autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority, but the rebels insist on sweeping changes that the government says will infringe on the country's sovereignty.
The latest round of peace talks held in Switzerland in October failed to make any progress in resolving the issue and relations between the two sides have since deteriorated.
A sharp spike in violence this year has killed at least 3,500 fighters and civilians, imperiled a 2002 ceasefire and threatened to return the country to all-out war.
The Tiger's top leader earlier this week called the Oslo-brokered ceasefire "defunct," but the rebels later clarified they would abide by the truce.
Distributed by the Associated Press
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Published: Fri Dec 1 09:18:03 EST 2006