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Bus bombing kills 20 as Sri Lanka prepares for freedom day PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 February 2008

Bus bombing kills 20 as Sri Lanka prepares for freedom day AFP, COLOMBO

Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels detonated a bomb on a crowded bus in northern Sri Lanka on Saturday, killing at least 20 people two days ahead of celebrations marking independence day, officials said.

The parcel bomb ripped through the vehicle parked at a bus station in Dambulla, 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Colombo. It had stopped off on its way to the Buddhist pilgrimage town of Anuradhapura, police said.

Thirteen people were pronounced dead on arrival at the Dambulla hospital, while five died there and two others died en route to other medical facilities, a Dambulla hospital spokesman said.

"Most of the victims had serious burn injuries," the spokesman told AFP. The defence ministry blamed the bombing on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have been fighting for decades for an independent homeland in the majority Sinhalese island.

Saturday's attack came as Sri Lanka stepped up security ahead of festivities on Monday to mark the country's 60th anniversary of independence from Britain.

Some 42 people were being treated at Dambulla hospital while 26 had been transferred to two better-equipped facilities in the region, the spokesman said.

No foreigners were among the casualties. e privately-owned bus was taking Buddhist pilgrims from the central town of Kandy to north central Anuradhapura town and had stopped at Dambulla to pick up more passengers.

Police cordoned off the blast site and an investigation was underway, an area police officer said by telephone.

Initial reports suggested the blast originated inside the bus when it was parked at the station -- a key transit point for people travelling in the region, he said.

Dambulla is a historic town known for a Buddhist rock temple as well as an upmarket tourist resort with boutique hotels. Tamil Tiger rebels set off a powerful suicide truck bomb in the same area in October 2006, killing at least 116 sailors heading home on leave.

Police increased already tight security in the capital Saturday and military officials carried out an intensive search along the main road to the island's only international airport and found two "suicide jackets", which are usually worn by LTTE bombers.

A government minister was killed on the same highway last month when rebels set off a roadside bomb. The authorities had warned of bomb attacks by Tamil Tiger guerrillas who are battling government forces in the north where they have a de facto separate state.

There have been a slew of bomb attacks this year.

On Friday, a suicide bomber on a bicycle killed four people in the northern Jaffna peninsula, an attack the military blamed on the Tigers.

They were also blamed for bombing a bus in the island's south last month, killing 27 passengers, and later killing another 10 civilians in a separate attack in the same area.

The Tigers accused the military of bombing a school bus inside rebel-held territory last month, killing 18 people, including 11 children.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972 in a conflict that has left tens of thousands dead.

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