Sri Lankan government minister killed amid an upsurge in violence

Following Colombo's withdrawal from a 2002 truce with Tamil rebels, nation-building chief DM Dassanayake was fatally wounded in a roadside bombing.

A Sri Lankan government minister was killed and 10 others wounded in a roadside bomb Tuesday near the Southeast Asian country's capital, Colombo. The attack, which government officials blamed on Tamil Tiger rebels, follows an upsurge in violence since the government pulled out of a 2002 truce agreement with the rebel group last week.

The explosion killed Sri Lanka's minister of nation building, DM Dassanayake, whose car was caught in the attack 12 miles north of the capital, reports the Guardian.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said: "We have still not arrested anybody but the suspicion is on the LTTE."
The Tamil Tigers, known formally as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have been blamed for an increase in attacks around Colombo in recent months.
Last Wednesday, suspected rebels exploded a bomb near a bus transporting wounded soldiers through the capital, killing a soldier and three civilians. Soon after, Sri Lanka's cabinet decided to withdraw from a 2002 truce that had all but collapsed over the past two years.

Tuesday's attack, if claimed by the LTTE, will be the first successful assassination of a top political or military target since 2006, when the rebels killed Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, Sri Lanka's third most senior military officer, the Guardian added.

The minister was traveling between Colombo and the island's international airport when the bomb went off, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. "The windows of the vehicle were shattered and photos show the passenger side riddled with holes. Claymore mines are placed above the ground. They can be detonated by remote control and the explosives can be directed. They are frequently used by the Tamil Tigers," the BBC said.

Mr. Dassanayake was "notorious for his alleged underworld links and once attended parliament in handcuffs, having been allowed out of a remand prison to take part in a key debate," reports the Agence France-Presse.

It was not immediately clear if the minister was specifically targeted, or if the attackers may have tried to get a more senior politician using the same highway to travel to the capital, an official involved in the probe said.
"There are lots of theories on the possible target, but what is clear is that it is the work of the Tigers," the official said, asking not to be named.

... On Sunday, security forces also conducted a major search operation in the entire Western province which covers the capital and airport area.

According to police, 28,000 vehicles were searched, 75,000 people questioned and 198 arrested in the region, which is home to 2.2 million people.

LTTE rebels were also blamed by the government for the death of opposition leader T Mahesheran on Jan. 1 at a temple in Colombo, reports Reuters in a timeline of attacks blamed on the rebel group over the last 20 years.

The Sri Lankan military has scaled up its offensive against the Tamil Tigers since the withdrawal from the cease-fire last week. According to defense officials, soldiers shot dead the rebels' intelligence chief – known as Colonel Charles – in an ambush in the country's northern province over the weekend, Bloomberg reports.

The Associated Press reported Monday that gun battles between troops and rebels had increased since last week, bringing the death toll for four days of fighting to 81, according to military figures.

The upsurge in attacks from both sides supports fears that this will be the "year of war for Sri Lanka," said the BBC in another report. "Scores of Tamil rebels and soldiers have been reported killed in heavy fighting in four fronts of northern Sri Lanka in recent days. The rebels are offering fierce resistance to the army and there are intermittent battles at sea as well," the BBC said, adding that international interest appears to be waning, and any calls for restraint from other countries seem to be having no effect on Sri Lanka's conflict.

... One worrying development for human rights is that the Nordic ceasefire monitors, whose mission was set up as part of the 2002 agreement, will no longer have a role to play.
Soon, there will be no independent officials to investigate the violence, making it even harder to verify the claims and counter-claims of the two sides

Tamil Eelam News agency reports that Sri Lanka has responded sharply to the international criticism of its withdrawal from the cease-fire agreement brokered by Norway in 2002, especially comments from the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, which released a joint statement Friday expressing concern about the potential escalation of violence.

Sri Lanka said the Nordic countries' statement and comments of Nordic foreign ministers are unhelpful.
"The continuing good faith of the government of Sri Lanka received no plaudits from Scandinavia," the Sri Lankan government's Peace Secretariat said in a statement.

The Nordic countries' joint statement had suggested that as many as 10,000 lives may have been spared in the decline in violence in the initial years of the cease-fire, and that the withdrawal of the truce monitors would leave little voice for civilians and victims.

The Times of India reports that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh postponed his scheduled visit to Sri Lanka following the truce withdrawal, possibly due to potential reaction from his party's ally in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the DMK, whose leaders have supported the Tamil Tigers in the past. Mr. Singh was supposed to be the chief guest at the 60th anniversary celebrations of Sri Lanka's independence on Feb. 4.

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