Sri Lankan Cabinet minister escapes suicide blast

A suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber attacked a convoy ferrying a Sri Lankan Cabinet minister outside the capital, Colombo, on Thursday, killing at least one person, a military spokesperson said.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said a woman suicide bomber believed to be from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) triggered the blast at the passing convoy escorting Agriculture Minister Maithripala Sirisena.

The minister was not hurt, but the vehicle carrying his secretary was damaged in the attack and the Deputy Agriculture Minister, Siripala Gamlath, was among seven people injured.

“As our group of vehicles passed by, I noticed a woman running towards our vehicles and then there was a very loud explosion,” Sirisena told state television.

An Agence France-Presse photographer at the scene said two jeeps were damaged.

Nanayakkara said the minister had been returning to the capital after attending a harvest festival event.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although Tiger suicide bombers have carried out similar attacks in the past.

The explosion came just days after a Tiger rebel suicide bomber killed 29 people, including a retired army general, in the northern town of Anuradhapura.

It was not the first time that Sirisena—secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party—had escaped an assassination bid.

Earlier this year, police arrested a suicide bomber mingling with the crowds at a political rally the minister was about to address in the north-central town of Polonnaruwa.

In January, the Tigers killed the buildings minister, DM Dassanayake, in a roadside mine attack, while highways minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle was killed in April by a suicide bomber.

The LTTE have been fighting for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka since 1972.

Fighting is currently centered on the north where troops are advancing on the rebels’ headquarters in the town of Kilinochchi, 330km north of Colombo.

Having wrestled the east from the rebels in July 2007, Sri Lanka’s army chief said on the weekend that his soldiers had reached the outskirts of the town.

The United Nations estimates 230 000 people have been displaced in the recent wave of fighting in Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu districts.

The head of the LTTE’s political wing, B Nadesan, accused the Sri Lankan government on Thursday of launching a “genocidal war”. He said thousands of Tamils had been uprooted from their homes and villages and forced to seek refuge in the open as a result of the military offensive.

Sri Lanka pulled out of a six-year Norwegian-brokered truce in January, since when the military says 7 303 rebels and 715 soldiers have been killed.—Sapa-AFP



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