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Monday, October 16, 2006

Suicide attack on Sri Lanka military convoy kills 67

COLOMBO, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Suspected Tamil rebels rammed a truck loaded with explosives into a Sri Lankan naval convoy on Monday, killing at least 67 people, including some civilians, the military said.

The attack near the town of Habarana, about 190 km (120 miles) northeast of the capital Colombo, was one of the worst suicide bombings in the troubled Indian Ocean island.

It came at the start of a week of hectic international diplomacy aimed at ending a rash of fighting between the military and the rebels ahead of planned peace talks in Geneva on Oct. 28-29.

"Sixty-seven people including many sailors and some civilians were killed and 60 were wounded. The toll might go up," said a spokesman at the media centre for national security in Colombo.

The navy gathers its men at a transit camp near Habarana before transporting them to the eastern naval base of Trincomalee.

"There were about 15 buses and 13 were damaged in the explosion," a navy officer in Colombo, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters.

The convoy had stopped near the town and many sailors had stepped out of their buses when the truck rammed into the vehicles, officers said.

There were some small shops in the area and civilians were also caught in the blast, they said.

"The sailors were in civilian clothes and were not carrying weapons because they were either going on leave or reporting back after vacations," the national security spokesman said.

He said the toll could go up as many bodies had been blown to bits and a count was still on.

"When the LTTE simply can't fight the navy at sea they resort to these types of attacks," he added.

A senior government minister condemned the incident, calling it a "barbaric terrorist attack on unarmed soldiers".

"It is very clear that the LTTE is not willing to distance itself from terrorism," Keheliya Rambukwella, the government's defence spokesman and a minister, told Reuters.

Monday's attack came as Yasushi Akashi, the peace envoy of the island's chief financial donor, Japan, began talks with government leaders to push a four-year peace process that has been battered by mounting violence.

Hundreds of people have been killed in spiralling violence in Sri Lanka since late July, and a truce brokered in 2002 now exists only on paper.

Last week, dozens of troops and rebels were killed and hundreds wounded in one of the deadliest battles since the truce.

On Sunday, the Sri Lankan navy shot and sunk a suspected rebel trawler off the country's northwestern coast, killing six suspected Tamil Tigers.

More than 65,000 people have been killed since 1983 when the rebels began fighting for an independent Tamil homeland.
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