updated 1/2/2008 11:34:04 AM ET 2008-01-02T16:34:04

Sri Lanka's government has decided to formally withdraw from a Norway-brokered cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels amid escalating violence, an official said Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb exploded near a bus carrying wounded soldiers, killing one soldier and three civilian passers-by, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara. Dr. Anil Jasinghe at Colombo National Hospital confirmed there were four fatalities.

Nanayakkara said Tamil Tiger rebels were suspected of detonating the bomb, which had been planted opposite a small hotel and was targeting a bus that was heading to the hospital with soldiers who had been wounded in battles with the insurgents.

Phone calls to rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan's office went unanswered.

Truce annulled
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake proposed to the Cabinet the annulment of the nearly six-year-old truce and it was approved unanimously, cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Anura Yapa told The Associated Press.

"Today it was proposed to the Cabinet by the honorable prime minister that the cease-fire is no longer valid and it's time to withdraw from the cease-fire agreement," he said. "All the ministers agreed to the proposal."

Wickramanayake will soon formally notify peace broker Norway about the government's decision to pull out of the agreement, Yapa said.

According to the agreement signed in February 2002 between then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Tamil Tiger rebels' reclusive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran either side must give 14-days' notice before officially withdrawing from the truce.

The agreement when signed was thought to be the best chance of permanently ending decades of civil war in the island nation and received widespread international support, especially from the United States, Japan, the European Union and India.

Decades-long civil war
The rebels who are fighting for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils are blamed for numerous bomb attacks against political, military and civilian targets but the group has routinely denied any involvement.

In November, a rebel female suicide bomber killed herself and another man after she failed to get near a government minister, her apparent target. On the same evening, a powerful bomb went off near a busy clothing store, killing nearly 20 civilians.

Tamil Tigers have waged their separatist war since 1983 after Tamils suffered decades of discrimination by the state controlled by the majority Sinhalese.

More than 70,000 people have died in nearly 25 years of violence.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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