Ranga Sirilal, Reuters
Colombo: A Tamil Tiger suicide bomber tried to blow up an army camp in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, killing seven people a day after rebels carried out their first air strike since fighting began in 1983.
The military said troops shot the suicide bomber as he tried to drive an explosives-laden tractor into the camp in the eastern district of Batticaloa, setting off an explosion which killed him, two soldiers and four civilians, and wounded 13 others.
“We suspect there were more than 200 kg (440 lbs) of explosives,” said military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe. “You can’t find even a piece of the trailer. If it had come into the camp, it would have been a major disaster.”
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday’s attack.
The military is still investigating how the Tigers managed to fly a light aircraft over the capital undetected, drop bombs and fly back to their northern stronghold without being shot down — their first such raid since the civil war began.
The rebels claimed to have knocked out 40% of the air force’s strike capability, but the military said none of its fighter jets targeted by the rebels were damaged in the strike. Nordic truce monitors say they have not had access to the area.
The Tigers said more such attacks by its air wing would follow, threatening to deepen renewed conflict in the island state off the toe of India.
The air force responded late on Monday with a series of air strikes in the rebel-held north, which the Tigers said disrupted civilian settlements but killed no one.
The civilian airport, 23 miles (37 km) north of the capital, next door to the air base was not damaged in Monday’s attack but was closed for several hours. Cathay Pacific has suspended inbound and outbound flights.
“The air power of a frenzied and desperate organisation as the LTTE is a grave threat aimed not only at Sri Lanka but also at the entire South Asian region,” the island’s main political parties said in a joint statement issued overnight.
“We call upon the international community to make a proper assessment of this very real danger and draw its serious attention to all actions taken both locally and abroad by these separatist terrorist forces in Sri Lanka.”
The government on Monday said neighbouring India in particular should be wary of the threat posed by the rebels’ air wing — comprised of up to five light aircraft smuggled onto the island in pieces and reassembled.
The Sri Lankan government has been trying unsuccessfully for years to convince India — which lost around 1,000 troops in the 1990s when a peacekeeping mission turned into all-out war with the Tigers — to become more involved in ending the conflict.
“From the point of view of brutality and lunacy, the LTTE is an easy match for the authors of the 11 September hellfires,” the government mouthpiece Daily News wrote in an editorial on Tuesday. “It goes without saying that those behind 11 September may have taken a leaf from the LTTE.”