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SL Air Force strikes LTTE heartland

The military had blamed LTTE for a bus attack that killed 64 civilians, reports PK Balachandran. Is SL headed for war?

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 17:16 IST

Sixty-four civilians, including children and Buddhist monks, were killed and 39 injured when a jam-packed bus in which they were travelling was blasted by a claymore mine in Kebitigollawa in Anuradhapura district on Thursday.

Blaming the LTTE for the massacre, the government sent its Air Force to bomb the Tamil Tiger heartland of Mullaitivu in the North, in which the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has his main base.

Tamilnet website said that Mullaitivu town and suburbs were bombed.

Simultaneously, the Sri Lankan army shelled Sampoor and Mutur in the East.

The LTTE denied involvement in the attack and charged that the government had perpetrated the massacre only to blame it and blacken its image in the eyes of the international community.

However, despite these incidents, the government said that the peace process was still on, though it had to be looked at afresh to make it meaningful.

Victims were Sinhalas

The site of the attack, Kebitigollawa, is a Sinhala majority area and is 23 km south of the Tamil dominated town of Vavuniya in north Sri Lanka. It is designated as a "border area". 

The victims of the attack were presumably all from the majority Sinhala community.

The claymore attack took place at 7.15 am when buses in the Anuradhapura district tended to be jam-packed with people going for work, and children going to school.

This is the first time, after the ceasefire agreement of February 2002, that a civilian bus has been hit by terrorists inflicting such high casualties.

The blast occurred just a day after the LTTE delegation returned from Oslo to Kilinochchi via Colombo, after the abortive talks on ceasefire monitoring.

Govt call for international help 

The Sri Lankan government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, squarely blamed the LTTE for the "barbaric and inhuman terrorist act."

A statement released by the government said that the "aim of the terrorists was to instigate a backlash (against the Tamils) in order to fulfil their evil designs."

The government urged the people of Sri Lanka to be calm, and to support its endeavour to "eradicate the menace of terrorism."

Spokesman Rambukwella said that the government was in touch with the international community, especially the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors' Conference, and had appealed to them, and all civilised people, "to take cognizance of the evil designs of terrorists and extend all assistance and cooperation to Sri Lanka at this critical juncture."

Air Force bombs LTTE areas

Rambukwela announced that the government was in the process of taking "action" to "deter" the LTTE from continuing its bid to whip a communal backlash in South Sri Lanka.

He said that targeting of the "deterrent action" would be "specific and precise".  He did not elaborate.

But even as he was addressing the media in Colombo, the pro-LTTE Tamil websites reported that two Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) Kfir fighter-bombers had struck at the LTTE heartland of Mullaitivu in north Sri Lanka, wounding five civilians.

The Tamilnet  website said that the fighter-bombers had struck the tsunami-hit village of Selvapuram.

Simultaneously, army artillery shelled Sampoor and Mutur, near Trincomalee in the East. Sampoor had been bombed earlier, after the LTTE made an abortive attempt on the life of the Sri Lankan Army Commander Gen.Sarath Fonseka in Colombo.

LTTE denies hand in attack

The LTTE, however, denied that it was responsible for the massacre of the bus passengers and said that the government had done the deed to discredit it.

"The LTTE condemns this attack on the civilian bus. Directly targeting civilians cannot be justified under any circumstances," said a statement put out by the outfit's Peace Secretariat.

The blast was a "mindless use of civilian life for a political end," it said.

"The attack on Kebitigollawa, timed to occur immediately after the arrival of the LTTE delegation from Europe, is a reprehensible act of murder with the sole aim of blaming the LTTE for the attack," the statement said.

Referring to the aerial attacks subsequent to the mine blast, it said: "The GoSL (government of Sri Lanka) is going to justify the air attack as retaliation for the claymore attack which was also in fact carried out by the them".     

Govt re-looking at peace process

Asked if the bus massacre meant the end of the peace process and that war was on the cards, government spokesman Rambukwela said: "There is no declaration of war. This (bus massacre) was an act of terrorism. The peace process is on."

"But we have to re-examine the peace process and give it a meaningful background. We are having a re-look," he said.