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Top Sri Lankan military officer, 3 others killed

A blast hit a vehicle carrying the deputy chief of staff of Sri Lanka’s army on Monday, killing him, and three others, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up next to a car carrying a top Sri Lankan general Monday, killing the officer and three others, officials said.

Five people were wounded in the bombing.

Authorities quickly blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels for the blast.

“This attack is a serious blow to the cease-fire,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

A pro-rebel Web-site reported the attack but there was no comment from the rebels.

“This is the work of the LTTE,” said military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, using the initials of the insurgents’ formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Four months of violence has brought Sri Lanka close to the brink of resuming full-scale civil war. Monday’s attack came just over two months after the Tigers tried to kill Sri Lanka’s top military commander in a suicide bombing in Colombo.

Violence escalates
In Monday’s attack, the car carrying Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, the third highest ranking officer in Sri Lanka’s military, was hit by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle, Samarasinghe said. The general was heading to work in Colombo and the attack took place close to his home in Pannipitiya, nine miles southeast of Colombo’s center.

Kulatunga survived the initial blast but died on the way to the city’s National Hospital, Samarasinghe said.

The blast also killed the general’s driver, a security guard and a civilian passer-by, the military said.

An hour after the explosion, the general’s Peugeot was still on fire. Another vehicle in the general’s convoy, a pickup-truck, was also damaged.

Discrimination against Sri Lanka’s 3.2 million Tamils, most of whom are Hindu, led the Tigers to take up arms in 1983. The resulting war on this tropical island of 19 million people — nearly three-quarters of them Buddhist Sinhalese — left more than 65,000 people dead before a 2002 cease-fire.

But talks to build on the truce soon faltered and in the past year, sporadic shootings and bombings have escalated into near-daily violence. Almost 700 people, more than half of them civilians, have been killed since April.

Throughout the conflict, the LTTE has used suicide bombers to target Sri Lanka’s military and political elite.

The rebels’ separatist war is mostly confined to the northeast of the country, where they want to curve out a separate Tamil homeland. Attacks in Colombo are much less frequent.

About two months ago, a woman disguised to look pregnant blew herself up in front of a car carrying Sri Lanka’s highest-ranking general, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in the capital. Eight people were killed and the general was wounded.

Kulatunga, the general killed Monday, was a hardened combat veteran who had led numerous operations against the rebels in the Sri Lanka’s northeast, the main theater of fighting during nearly two decades of full-scale war.