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Tit-for-tat raids hit Lanka truce

Colombo, April 25 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s military attacked Tamil Tiger rebel targets today in retaliation after a suicide attack on the army’s headquarters that killed nine as fears rose that a fragile ceasefire might collapse.

Earlier in the day, a suspected Black Tiger suicide bomber pretending to be pregnant blew herself up in an attack on the army’s commander, bringing violence that had been confined to the north and east to the capital.

The government said the LTTE had clashed with naval patrol boats in Trincomalee harbour, but that the air and artillery strikes that followed ' the first official military action against the rebels since the 2002 truce ' did not mean a return to a two-decade civil war. The army said attacks had stopped late in the evening.

“The LTTE did something this afternoon that clearly breached the ceasefire,” head of the government peace secretariat, Palitha Kohona, said. “The government had to act. We still hope that the LTTE will decide to come to talks.”

The Tigers said they came under attack from Kfir fighter jets and army artillery in the northeastern Trincomalee district, but there was no immediate word on casualties. They denied responsibility for the Colombo attack, just as they had for other recent ambushes on the military.

“We are not pulling out from the ceasefire agreement or anything,” said rebel media co-ordinator Daya Master.

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 after the blast.

The army said eight people ' in addition to the bomber ' both civilian and military, had been killed and 27 wounded inside army headquarters, one of the most secure places in the country. Army photos showed corpses covered with plastic sheeting, and body parts strewn around.

Addressing the nation after the strikes, President Mahinda Rajapakse barely mentioned the ceasefire, saying his government would not give in to terror. He said he was concerned by recent killings of ethnic minority Tamil civilians. “I make a fervent appeal to all our people not to take the law into their own hands,” he said.

About 110 people have died in the bloodiest two weeks since the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire halted the civil war that killed more than 64,000, with the rebels still keen to win their goal of a Tamil homeland in the island’s north and east.

Peace talks were supposed to take place in Geneva this week but arrangements became deadlocked on over how to transport a group of eastern rebel commanders to attend a pre-talks meeting.

But the rebels’ real complaint is what they say is government complicity with a breakaway rebel group in the east attacking the mainstream Tigers.

With mediator Norway still trying to secure talks in Switzerland amid spiralling ethnic violence and tension, the Nordic mission monitoring the truce called for restraint. They confirmed the military assault.

“My assessment ' which is also my hope ' is that this is a limited retaliatory strike for today’s attack,” Swedish Major-General Ulf Henricsson, head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, said.

Both the Tiger attack and the government retaliation were acts of war, said Jehan Perera, head of the National Peace Council think-tank.

“Our hope is that it will stop, but escalatory dynamics are very difficult to stop once they are put in motion,” he said.

The Tigers have a long history of suicide bomb attacks.

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