By KRISHAN FRANCIS –
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A suspected rebel suicide bomber blew himself up Monday inside a crowded opposition party office in northern Sri Lanka, killing a former army general and 26 others.
Retired Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera and his wife were among the 27 dead and at least 80 more were wounded in the bomb attack at the United National Party office in Anuradhapura town, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The blast came as government troops and Tamil Tiger fighters battled for control of the rebels' administrative capital in the northern town of Kilinochchi.
The suicide bomber was a Tamil Tiger rebel who apparently targeted Perera because of his successes against the separatist cause during his years in the military, Nanayakkara said.
The attack occurred at about 8:45 a.m. Monday as officials from the United National Party gathered to open a new office. The blast also killed Rashmi Mohamed, a television journalist who was covering the opening.
Wearing a hidden explosives vest, the assailant "embraced the former commander" before detonating, the rebel-affiliated TamilNet Web site reported, noting that Perera played a key role in evicting Tamils from northeastern villages in 1984 to settle ethnic Sinhalese there.
Perera was lauded as a war hero in Sri Lanka for his repeated confrontations with the rebels and his role in halting a major guerrilla advance in 2000 into the Jaffna peninsula, the cultural heartland of the country's minority Tamils.
But he was also a critic of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and became a leader in recent months of the opposition United National Party. In August the retired officer won a seat in the north-central provincial assembly.
The United National Party, meanwhile, accused the government of ignoring repeated requests for a stronger security detail for Perera — an open critic of the way Colombo has conducted its military campaign against the rebels.
"The government must take full responsibility. They did not give him adequate security for political reasons," party official Tissa Attanayake said, without elaborating.
Condemning the attack, Rajapaksa said the Tamil Tiger group faces "severe setbacks" in its northern strongholds and "is now making every attempt to create violent backlashes in other parts of the country." He urged the public "to act cautiously in the face of such provocation."
Just hours before the attack, a roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded another in a village near Anuradhapura.
Rebel officials could not be reached for comment on either attack because communication lines have been cut to guerrilla-dominated areas in the north.
The rebels, banned as a terrorist group in the United States and the European Union, are said to have carried out more than 240 suicide bombings against military, political and economic targets.
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 to create an independent homeland for the country's ethnic minority Tamils who have faced years of discrimination at the hands of governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Meanwhile, fighting continued Sunday along the northern front lines separating the government territory and the rebels' de facto capital, killing 14 rebels and one soldier, a military statement said.