9 arrested in Sri Lanka bombing; president says rebels attacked because of battle setbacks

Other News Materials 27 April 2008 05:53 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) - Police arrested nine suspects in connection with a bus bombing that killed 26 passengers outside Sri Lanka's capital as air force jets attacked the Tamil rebels blamed for the attack.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa said Saturday the blast proved the Tamil Tiger separatists were facing growing pressure on the battlefield in the north.

"The terrorists had once again resorted to killing innocent civilians in the face of heavy setbacks on the battlefield," Rajapaksa said in a statement.

Friday's bomb tore through a bus filled with rush-hour passengers in Piliyandala, a suburb of the capital, Colombo. Among those killed were a Buddhist monk and a 10-year-old child, the government said. Another 64 people were wounded.

Police spokesman N.K. Ilangakoon said the nine suspects were being questioned. He did not give more details.

The military said it fears more rebel attacks against civilians as the northern war front heats up.

"They (the rebels) will resort to these kind of attacks when they are losing, but we can't say what place they will target next," military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. "We will try to prevent them, though it's not possible to stop 100 percent."

The rebels, who routinely deny responsibility for such attacks, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

On Saturday, air force fighter jets pounded a rebel artillery position in the northern Welioya region, the military said in a statement.

The government has stepped up attacks on the Tamil Tigers' de facto state in the north since pulling out of a long-ignored cease-fire in January. It claims to have killed thousands of guerrilla fighters since then. The rebels deny those casualty figures and have managed to fend off numerous offensives.

In the most ferocious recent clash, scores of troops were killed and more than 100 were wounded along the front lines Wednesday in a battle that was widely considered a disaster for the military.

Both sides routinely inflate enemy death tolls and underreport their own. Independent accounts of the fighting are rarely available because journalists are barred from the war zone.

The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.