Sri Lanka bombings move toward capital

The Army has blamed Tamil Tiger separatist rebels for recent attacks, which have targeted civilians near Colombo.

Rich Clabaugh

At least 21 people were killed and 47 more were wounded in an explosion on Friday targeting a crowded bus near Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Army blamed the attack on Tamil Tiger separatists. The attack was the third in the last two weeks that has targeted civilians around the Sri Lankan capital – far from the front lines of fighting in northern Sri Lanka.

The explosion occurred when a roadside fragmentation mine detonated as the bus passed during rush hour Friday morning, reports Agence France-Presse.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He said it was a "cowardly attack" by a "ruthless organisation."
Survivors said the bus was knocked over by the force of the explosion.
"I was standing in the middle of the bus when there was a loud noise and the whole bus toppled to the side," said 21-year-old office worker Shanika Priyadharshani while being bandaged up in hospital.

The Sri Lanka Army reports on its website that another bus was bombed Friday in the central Kandy district, about 50 miles east of Colombo, leaving one person dead and 12 injured. The report says that the alleged bomber was arrested by police.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers have been designated as terrorist organization by several nations, including the US, India, and the European Union. Earlier this year, the Sri Lankan government announced it was ending the often-ignored truce signed in 2002 with the Tamil Tigers, and pledged that it would win the war in 2008, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The Associated Press writes that the Tamil Tigers have not claimed responsibility for the Colombo attack, but notes that the rebels routinely deny a role in bombings. Nonetheless, the series of attacks have raised concerns among the public that the rebels can now "strike deep inside government territory despite a maze of security checkpoints around the capital and its suburbs."

"I don't know how this war is being fought in the north. I see that only on the television. But, it now seems the war has come to the capital," said Roshan Dhammika, a 30-year-old who drives a motorized rickshaw. ...
This week's attacks near the capital appeared to boost already strong support for the war among people in Colombo.
"What else can you do against a ruthless terrorist group. The LTTE now wants to stop operations in the north as they are suffering defeats. That's why they target civilians," said Ganesh Wijenayake, a 45-year-old businessman in Colombo.

Agence France-Presse notes that the attacks in Colombo have each closely followed similar attacks against civilians within the northern territory held by the Tamil Tigers.

Each of the attacks came after the LTTE complained that government commandos, who operate in small groups known as "deep penetration units", have killed civilians in roadside bombings inside Sri Lanka's rebel-held north.
The LTTE said two civilians were killed late Thursday by a roadside mine in the north by an army unit, and that six civilians died in a similar attack on Monday night.
Last month, the rebels accused government commandos of killing 19 people in mine attacks.
Sri Lanka's military refuses to comment on its covert operations in the north.

CBC News reports that more than 200 civilians in both government and rebel-held territory have died this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Bloomberg writes that the exchange of attacks against civilian targets is only hardening the hostilities in the conflict.

"This is a regular pattern of both parties allegedly targeting civilians. There is an element of tit-for-tat," Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council, a Sri Lankan non-governmental advocacy organization, said by telephone today from Colombo. "It also represents how in an escalating internal war, anyone can become a target. It is part of a larger psychological warfare."
Such attacks "harden feelings," he said. "So there is no chance that the two parties will return to the negotiating table."

The ongoing attacks have also resulted in increased scrutiny of the press, and in response the Sri Lankan government lashed out Thursday against what it says is irresponsible media analysis, reports the BBC.

The statement [by the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry] says that those who undermine public support for that mission by making false allegations give aid to the terrorists.
According to the ministry, only military officers are qualified to analyse military matters and it attacks "doomsayers and reporters who write inane comments."
It says that "traitors" in the press will be exposed.

The BBC writes that press-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned the statement as "very threatening." The BBC notes that one Sri Lankan commentator on the conflict was recently abducted and beaten under unexplained circumstances, while another recently stopped writing his weekly column.

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