A female suicide bomber struck Wednesday in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, killing herself and one other person, but not the government minister who was the intended target. Authorities blamed the attack on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, whose long-running separatist war flared up last year after the collapse of a Norwegian-brokered 2002 cease-fire.
Just hours after the suicide attack, another bomb exploded in a busy central district of Colombo, killing at least 16 people, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. Thirty-seven were also injured in the blast, which occurred outside a clothing shop in the Nugegoda district.
The bombings came one day after Sri Lanka warplanes bombed a LTTE radio station to stop the broadcast of an annual speech by rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The group separately accused the military of planting a roadside bomb that killed 13 people, mostly students. In his speech, which was carried by other rebel media, Mr. Prabhakaran said it was impossible to make peace with the ethnic Sinhalese majority. For its part, the Sinhalese-dominated government has said it can defeat the LTTE in its northern stronghold and vowed Monday to kill Prabhakaran.
The suicide bombing took place near the office of Welfare Minister Douglas Devananda, reports Reuters. The minister's personal secretary died and two other people were wounded in the blast, according to hospital officials. An officer of the elite police Special Task Force told Reuters that it was a suicide mission.
CNN reports that Mr. Devananda, who was unharmed, is an ethnic Tamil who heads a pro-government political party. He is seen as a traitor by the LTTE and "has survived 12 previous assassination attempts".
On Monday, hawkish Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he wanted to kill guerrilla chief Prabhakaran and that a political solution could only emerge from a military victory over the Tigers. Earlier this month, LTTE political head S.P. Thamilselvan died in an air raid that Mr. Rajapakse said was a precision strike based on intelligence.
Monday was also the day the LTTE chief marked his 53rd birthday, and Rajapakse said that if all goes to plan it will be his last.
"We are after him. We are specifically targeting their leadership," he said.
"For the last few months he (Prabhakaran) has been even more restricted in his movements. We want to keep them under pressure. We are gathering intelligence, information."
The LTTE said that a group of Tamil schoolchildren died Tuesday when their bus hit a land mine laid by the military, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. The military denied involvement.
"Thirteen civilians, including 11 schoolchildren, were killed in a claymore attack, by the Deep Penetration Unit of the Government of Sri Lanka, on a van near Iyankulam, 25km west of Kilinochchi town," the rebels said.
The driver and an adult accompanying the children were also killed, a statement said. Pictures on the rebels' website showed the bodies of schoolgirls laid out on the ground. The rebels are frequently accused of using claymore mines against government forces.
The LTTE celebrates Nov. 27 as Heroes' Day. In a bid to stop the broadcast of an annual speech by Prabhakaran, Sri Lanka's Air Force bombed an LTTE radio station in the northern city of Kilinochchi, reports Al Jazeera. The rebels said nine people died in the raid. In a bellicose speech, Prabhakaran warned the government not to underestimate its enemy.
"The Sinhala nation is trying to destroy the Tamil nation," the LTTE chief said in the speech, a text of which was distributed by the Tigers.
"It is unleashing unthinkable violence against another people. It only desires to find a solution to the Tamil question through military might and oppression."
Prabhakaran also criticized the international community for paying "lip service to peace" and failing to restrain the "warmongering" Colombo government, reports the Press Trust of India. He made the comments while paying tribute to Mr. Thamilselvan, the LTTE's slain political leader.
"Had the international community firmly and unambiguously condemned the anti-peace activities and the war mongering of the Sinhala regime, Thamilselvan would have been alive today… By only paying lip service to peace, the international community has contributed to the killing of an extra-ordinary son of our nation, Thamilselvan," Prabhakaran said.
The LTTE has fought since 1983 for an independent Tamil homeland in northern Sri Lanka, in a war that has killed around 70,000 people. Tamils make up 11.9 percent of the island's 20 million people, and almost 74 percent are Sinhalese, reports Bloomberg.
In July, Sri Lanka's Army flushed the LTTE out of the island's multiethnic east. Earlier this month, President Mahinda Rajapakse vowed in parliament to "eradicate" terrorism from the country and said that the LTTE had "demonstrated that they will never be ready to surrender arms and agree to a democratic political settlement."
Unsurprisingly, the renewed conflict has driven away foreign tourists, reports Agence France-Presse. Arrivals fell 20 percent in the first 10 months of the year to 387,790. Tourism is the island fourth-biggest industry.
In an analysis last month in Asia Times Online, security consultant James Voortman said that having taken back the eastern region Sri Lanka now has the upper hand over the LTTE. But the cost of a military victory, if attainable, could be prohibitive.
Defense analysts are divided on whether or not the military can drive the Tigers from their northern stronghold. The proponents of an assault argue that the Tigers are currently weak. There is an element of truth in this, as is seen with the loss of the east and subsequent battles on the northern fringes…However, other defense analysts see this lack of activity as exactly what makes the Tigers even more dangerous. This theory claims that the rebel leadership has dedicated all of its manpower to defending the north. With the Tigers stronghold being heavily fortified, it will not fall easily, and the military is likely to suffer high casualties.