| A soldier stands near the site of the suicide bombing at Habarana, Sri Lanka, on Monday. (AP)
Colombo, Oct. 16 (Reuters): Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels rammed a truck loaded with explosives into a Sri Lankan naval convoy today, killing at least 92 people and deepening pessimism over this month’s planned peace talks.
The attack near the town of Habarana, about 190 km northeast of the capital Colombo and close to the town of Dambulla, was one of the worst suicide bombings in the troubled Indian Ocean island.
It came at the start of a week of hectic international diplomacy aimed at ending a rash of fighting between the military and the LTTE ahead of planned peace talks in Geneva on October 28-29.
The victims were mostly navy sailors going home on vacation, but some civilians in the area were also killed, military officers at Colombo’s media centre for national security said. More than 100 people were wounded.
“This inhuman act is clear revenge by the terrorists on the navy which inflicted successive defeats on the LTTE against their attempts to smuggle arms and explosives in the recent past,” the centre said. Officers said the attack took place near a transit camp where the navy gathers its men heading to or returning from the eastern naval base of Trincomalee.
“There were about 15 buses and 13 were damaged in the explosion,” one navy officer in Colombo said.
The convoy had stopped near the town and many sailors had stepped out of their buses when the truck rammed into the vehicles, he said. There were some small shops in the area and civilians were also caught in the blast, he said, adding that the toll could go up as bodies had been blown to bits and a count was still on.
Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said he had to check with a regional commander if the LTTE was responsible. But he said the bombing could be justified if it was indeed the rebels who had carried it out as government forces also launched attacks outside the war zone and on civilians.
Sri Lankan air force jets bombed a village near the northeastern town of Mullaithivu late today and several civilians were feared killed, he added.
Today’s attack came as Yasushi Akashi, the peace envoy of the island’s chief financial donor, Japan, began talks with government leaders to push a four-year peace process that has been battered by mounting violence. Hundreds of people have been killed in the spiralling violence.