Bus bomb kills 24 in Sri Lanka
Fri April 25, 2008 14:29 EDT .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) A bomb hidden on the baggage rack of a packed, rush-hour bus exploded Friday evening outside Colombo, killing 24 people in an attack that the military blamed on Tamil Tiger rebels. The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for minority Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by Sri Lanka - 's Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
The attack was the first major bombing since a suicide bomber killed 14 people, including a government minister and a former Olympian, at the start of a marathon April 6.
It was the worst bus attack since suspected rebels bombed a bus Jan. 16 in the southern town of Buttala, gunned down the fleeing passengers and attacked nearby farmers as they retreated into the forest, killing 32 people.
The latest blast showed the rebels retain the ability to strike deep inside government territory despite a maze of security checkpoints around the capital and military efforts to crush the group.
In other violence, 17 rebels and four soldiers were killed in battles in the northern war zone Thursday, and air force jets hit a rebel camp Friday, the military said.
Sri Lankan forces also captured a revered Roman Catholic church near the front lines that religious groups feared was in danger of being damaged by fighting, the military said.
Government troops took over the church in Madhu, 130 miles north of Colombo, without any resistance after it had been abandoned by the rebels.
However, a cherished statue of the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Madhu, remained in rebel-controlled territory, where it had been moved by priests for safekeeping.
The Dutch-built 17th century church has been the site of annual pilgrimages attracting hundreds of thousands of worshippers who come to see the statue, believed to have miraculous healing powers.
But its proximity to the front lines has also made it a site of tragedy. In 1999, 44 civilians were killed when artillery shells hit the church. They were among 3,500 people who sought shelter inside from the fighting.
Associated Press writer Gemunu Amarasinghe contributed to this report from Piliyandala.
Published: Fri Apr 25 15:20:06 EDT 2008