/ 4 February 2008

Warring Sri Lanka marks 60 years of independence

With a parade of tanks, troops and rocket launchers, Sri Lanka on Monday marked its 60th anniversary of independence from Britain amid tight security after a string of attacks blamed on Tamil Tiger rebels.

Thousands of police and troops were on high alert in the capital Colombo as the island’s armed forces put on a show of military might along a promenade by the Indian Ocean, defying the rebels as a 25-year civil war escalates.

A suspected female Tiger suicide bomber killed 11 people and wounded 92 in an attack on Sunday on the island’s main train station, which sits a few hundred metres from the site of Monday’s parade. It was the latest in a litany of attacks.

”Two years ago no one believed that terrorists could be defeated but during the last two years we made it a reality in our motherland,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in an address to assembled military top brass, politicians and diplomats, referring to territorial gains against the rebels in the east.

”We have had the cancer of terrorism for three of the six decades since independence,” he added. ”The challenge bestowed on us by history is the defeat of terrorism and the development of the country.”

Troops and brass bands marched by after he spoke, accompanied by multi-barrel rocket launchers, armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces. Navy fast attack boats were set to cruise past, and attack helicopters and jets due to join overhead.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the armed forces were expecting the rebels to try and mount attacks to disrupt the celebration, which comes just weeks after Rajapaksa withdrew from a six-year-long ceasfire pact with the rebels to the horror of the international community.

Attack fears

”There have been recoveries of suicide jackets and an LTTE cadre last week. They are trying to disrupt the independence celebrations,” he said. ”We are expecting some kind of sabotage activity from the Tigers.

A caller claiming to be from a group Sri Lanka’s military says is a wing of the Tamil Tigers on Monday warned of bomb attacks in a phone call to Reuters.

Sri Lanka’s military said the group, Ellalan Forces, was a codename sometimes used by Tamil Tiger rebels behind attacks in the capital.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were not immediately reachable for comment.

A man claiming to be from the group called Reuters in January 1996 one minute before suspected Tigers rammed a truck packed with explosives into the Central Bank in Colombo, killing up to 100 people and wounding 1 400.

Police said attackers destroyed an electricity transformer on the southern outskirts of Colombo early on Monday with explosives, but no one was injured and it was unclear who was responsible.

Fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE rebels has intensified since the government scrapped the truce last month, saying the rebels were using it to rebuild and re-arm and were not sincere about talking peace.

Hundreds of people have been reported killed in recent weeks and analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses in a propaganda war that runs parallel to a conflict that has killed an estimated 70 000 people since 1983. – Reuters