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Sri Lankan President's Brother Escapes Deadly Suicide Blast

01 December 2006

The Sri Lankan president's brother has escaped a suicide bombing that targeted a defense convoy in the capital, Colombo. One soldier died and 15 people were injured in the attack, which officials are blaming on Tamil Tiger separatist rebels. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.

Officials say a suicide bomber rammed a three-wheel taxi into a convoy of cars carrying Sri Lanka's defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, along a tightly-guarded street in downtown Colombo.

The defense secretary, who is the president's brother, was unhurt.

Officials immediately pointed the finger at Tamil Tiger rebels, who have conducted numerous suicide bombings in the past. Rajapakse is a key rebel target because he coordinates the military campaign against the separatists.

The head of the government peace secretariat, Palitha Kohona, accused the rebels, known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) of rejecting peace talks in favor of violence.

"The government has repeatedly invited the LTTE to return to the negotiating table, and of course the response to that has been a spate of terror attacks, including the suicide bomb attack in Colombo today,' Kohona noted. "We hope sincerely that the LTTE will give up this violent approach to achieving a political objective."

The bombing took place days after Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran said a truce reached with the government in 2002 was "defunct", and the rebels had no option but to push for an independent state. The separatist leader's tough statement came a month after a failed round of peace negotiations between the two sides.

The deputy head of Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, Rohan Edresinghe, says Prabhakaran's comments have raised fears that the ethnic conflict in the country will intensify.

"The bomb blast ... probably will not take too many people by surprise given the fact that the peace talks and the negotiations seem to have collapsed and it looks as if both sides are determined to pursue some sort of a military initiative at least for the time being before any realistic prospect of a resumption of negotiation," he said.

International mediators have prevented the four-year truce from unraveling completely, but in the past year sporadic fighting has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 rebel fighters, soldiers and civilians.

The ethnic conflict in the country has dragged on since 1983, fueled by complaints of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese community against the minority Tamils.

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