/ 16 June 2006

Sri Lanka bombs rebels but vows peace

Sri Lanka’s president vowed on Friday not to allow the killing of 64 bus passengers derail the island’s peace process as the air force bombarded Tamil Tiger positions for a second straight day.

President Mahinda Rajapakse insited the Norwegian-brokered process would not be allowed to collapse following Thursday’s Claymore mine attack on the bus, the deadliest against civilians here in 10 years.

“We will not allow incidents like this to scuttle the peace process,” the president told survivors and relatives of bus massacre victims on Thursday, an official in his office said.

The government blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the carnage, but the guerrillas denied involvement.

“We will not allow this type of barbaric terrorist attack to happen again,” the president said. “We must resolve the conflict peacefully. No one can resolve problems through this type of violence.”

Rajapakse ordered security to be boosted in the remote Kebitigollewa area where an overcrowded bus was hit with the mine blast.

Despite the peace vow, at first light on Friday jets resumed retaliatory attacks against suspected Tiger positions.

“The airforce carried out two bombing sorties over Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu,” a military source here said, referring to two northern areas held by the Tigers.

“The identified targets of the LTTE are being taken this morning,” he said.

The military said there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet website said an aerial attack in the district of Mullaitivu on Thursday was near a tsunami refugee camp, but that there were no casualties.

“At least six bombs were dropped near the refugee camp,” Tamilnet said. “Two of the bombs did not explode.”

It said people had “escaped injuries from the indiscriminate bombing from a high altitude by supersonic jets”.

However, it reported at least one four-metre deep crater.

The renewed air attacks came as government officials began handing over the bodies of Thursday’s blast, whose victims included 15 children, to their families.

A mass funeral was to take place in the north central district of Anuradhapura, 200km from the capital Colombo on Saturday, but some of the victims were being buried on Friday.

International condemnation of the massacre mounted.

“This attack is much more than a ceasefire violation. It is a grave breach of the most fundamental tenets of humanity,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said.

“The government must urgently investigate this case so that those responsible not only face justice, but the full censure of the international community,” she said.

The blast and retaliatory strikes fuelled fears the island’s faltering peace process was doomed and that the nation was heading back to full-scale war.

The United States urged the Tigers to “renounce terror and enter into direct negotiations with the Sri Lankan government”.

Former colonial ruler Britain condemned the attack and urged all sides to refrain from further “senseless” violence.

The island’s main peace broker, Norway’s International Development Minister Erik Solheim, described the attack as “horrific” and asked both sides to end the spiral of violence and stop killing civilians.

“The most important now is for everyone in Sri Lanka to put a stop to this violence, where one act of violence creates a response from others and then it goes from one case of violence to another, worse and worse,” Solheim said.

India, Japan and Switzerland also condemned the carnage while nudging the parties to negotiate.

Norway last week failed to arrange a face-to-face meeting between Colombo and the LTTE in Oslo. The spike in violence has left at least 760 people dead since December. – AFP