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Monday, August 14, 2006

Blast rocks Sri Lanka capital

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Tamil Tigers killed seven people and injured 17 in an attack on a Pakistan embassy convoy on Monday, the military said, just hours after a suspected rebel front threatened to start bombing civilians in the capital.

The blast, less than a mile from Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's residence, came after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said Air Force jets bombed an orphanage in the northeast, killing 43 schoolgirls aged 15-18 and injured 60.

"Definitely it's an LTTE attack to the Pakistan ambassador's car but they missed and the backup vehicle got caught," a military spokesman said.

Four military personnel and three civilians were killed in the blast, which bomb squad officials said was caused by a fragmentation mine inside a three wheeler taxi.

In Pakistan's capital, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told Reuters: "He was unhurt...though his vehicle was damaged a bit."

The blast shook the windows of the Reuters office in the capital.

Soon afterwards, the three-wheeled autorickshaw was still burning as heavily armed troops and police sealed off the area, only 100 metres (yards) from a busy shopping mall.

Peppered with what looked to be ball-bearings from the claymore mine, a Land Rover had slammed through a wall. A nearby car was burning while other civilian vehicles were damaged and smashed.

"Pakistan has been providing military hardware to Sri Lanka for some time," said a defense analyst. "I wouldn't rule out mistaken identity. This comes after this bombing in Mullattivu. It could be an opportunistic attack when they saw the military people in the car."

Monday is also Pakistan's independence day.


With contact with the conflict-hit areas limited, the LTTE report on the bombing of the orphanage could not be immediately confirmed. UNICEF was sending a team to the site of the orphanage.

The government accused the rebels of shelling civilian areas in the northern Jaffna peninsula, saying it feared fatalities as the worst fighting since a 2002 ceasefire raged on.

The military said it had launched air strikes on identified Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) targets such as camps in the northeast, but gave no further details.

Aid workers estimate around 100,000 people have been displaced during three weeks of fighting. Dozens are confirmed dead, and many fear the eventual death toll will be far higher.

The rebels, who ignored a government demand to surrender, are furious at President Mahinda Rajapakse's outright rejection of their demands for a separate ethnic homeland for Tamils in the island's north and east.

"They have mingled with civilians and are calling artillery fire onto the areas of the security forces," said Major Upali Rajapakse of the National Security Center. "It is falling in and around civilian areas. There has to be civilian dead."

He said the country's east was quiet but artillery rained down on Kayts island, just to the west of Jaffna town, and was being fired across a no-man's land that separates government from rebel territory around 20 miles to the east.


Jaffna residents flocked to shops to stockpile food after the army briefly lifted a curfew. With no prospect of fresh supplies from the country's south, prices of basic goods were soaring.

"We are used to being displaced, but this time it came about so suddenly we were ill-prepared," said 50-year-old fisherman Ledil Amaldas, who fled his coastal village and is staying with a relative in Jaffna.

"I have 5,000 rupees ($48) with me," he said, standing in a long queue to buy sugar and flour. "I hope we can manage for another 12-14 days. After that I don't know what will happen."

The High Security Zone Residents Liberation Force (HSZRLF), a presumed Tiger front group that says it wants the military out of civilian areas, said if the military targeted minority Tamils then bombs would explode in the majority Sinhalese south.

The HSZRLF claimed responsibility for previous attacks on troops in the north, and proclaimed a ceasefire in early 2006 when the Tigers went to peace talks before claiming more attacks in April. Analysts say it is clearly a Tiger front.

Many of Sri Lanka's most prominent Tamils come from Jaffna and analysts say the Tigers are bent on eventually capturing a town that they have controlled in previous phases of a war which has killed more than 65,000 people since 1983.

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