(AFP) – May 26, 2008
COLOMBO (AFP) — At least eight people were killed and scores more wounded Monday in the bombing of a packed commuter train by suspected Tamil rebels in the suburbs of the Sri Lankan capital, officials said.
Hospital officials said eight bodies had been recovered, among them five women, and that more than 72 people were being treated, mostly for burns.
The island's military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, said a pregnant woman was among the dead. He blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the evening rush-hour attack.
State television said about 200 people were on board the train at the time of the bombing, which occurred at Dehiwela railway station in the southern suburbs of Colombo.
"There was a deafening noise and the train suddenly started to slow down. People were shouting 'bomb, bomb!' and scrambling to get out of the windows of the carriage," 42-year-old commuter Ramani Padmalatha told AFP.
"I managed to jump out from the door. I saw the roof of the carriage had blown off. People were stumbling out of that carriage with blood stains on their clothes, some with burns, some looking dazed," she said.
Over the weekend, three bombs were found on commuter buses and defused. Earlier Monday, police had told bus and train passengers to be on alert.
Colombo has been hit by a string of bombings against both civilian and security targets in recent months, with authorities pointing the finger at Tamil Tiger rebels.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels, who are fighting to carve out a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the ethnic Sinhalese-majority island.
Fighting has escalated in Sri Lanka since the start of the year, when the government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the Tamil Tigers.
Since then, both sides have traded allegations that each others' forces are targeting civilians -- whether it be Tamil suicide attackers venturing into the south or army commandos operating inside the rebel-held north.
Last week, the LTTE accused an army "Deep Penetration Unit" of killing 20 Tamil civilians in fragmentation mine attacks in the north. Such allegations are regularly followed by bombings in the south.
Dehiwela railway station has been the target of bombings in the past. In July 1996, more than 70 people died when two bombs went off on a train at the station.
The attack came as ground battles between government forces and the LTTE continued to rage across the northern front lines.
The defence ministry said 21 guerrillas and one soldier died in the latest clashes on Sunday.
It also said air force helicopter gunships were active in the north on Monday, providing support to ground troops moving deeper into the rebel-held region of Mannar.
The casualty figures brought to 3,873 the number of rebels the government says it has killed since January.
The ministry has said 298 soldiers have died over the same period.
The numbers cannot be independently verified since Sri Lanka bars journalists and human rights groups from the embattled areas.
Sri Lanka's war with the Tamil rebels, who staged their first attacks in 1972, has left tens of thousands of people dead.
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