A suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman blew herself up inside Sri Lanka's army headquarters yesterday, critically wounding the army commander and killing at least eight.
The blast came as peace envoys from Norway tried to coax the rebels to return to peace talks in Switzerland, seen as the best chance of halting a wave of attacks that are straining a 2002 ceasefire to breaking point.
"A suicide bomb went off near the army hospital aimed at the army commander's vehicle. It was a powerful blast," an army spokesman said.
Sri Lanka's north and east have been rocked by claymore fragmentation mine attacks and ethnic riots this month as a peace process between the government and Tigers remains deadlocked, but this was the first suicide attack in the capital in two years.
The Tigers were unavailable for comment, but have denied involvement in recent attacks. More than 100 people have died in the bloodiest two weeks since the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire halted the civil war that killed more than 64,000.
The military said Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, a decorated combat veteran who said the truce was too soft on the rebels, had been undergoing surgery but was out of danger.
The army said eight people, both civilian and military, had been killed and 27 wounded. The suicide bomber disguised herself as a pregnant woman with explosives tucked under her clothes, an army source said.
After the blast, soldiers hastily pulled on flak jackets and helmets and closed off nearby roads, while Fonseka's distraught wife was escorted into the base one of the highest security areas in the country.
Earlier yesterday the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who demand an ethnic Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east, had called on mediator Norway to pressure the government to accept its conditions for returning to peace talks.
They have been wrangling with Colombo over the transport of rebel commanders to their northern headquarters for meetings they say must take place ahead of the peace talks, which have now been indefinitely postponed.
But in a letter to Norwegian envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer, they made clear their real anger was at a breakaway faction in the east led by a former Tiger known as Karuna Amman, whom the Tigers say the army is helping to stage attacks on their members.
The last suicide blast in Colombo, in July 2004, targeted a government minister the Tigers saw as having links to Karuna.
Source: China Daily