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Sri Lanka convoy blast 'kills 90'

At least 90 navy personnel are feared dead in a Tamil Tiger suicide attack on a military bus convoy in northern Sri Lanka, the military says. Military officials told the BBC that they had already recovered 67 bodies near the town of Digampathana. They say that at least 60 others were injured in a "huge explosion" involving an "explosive-laden vehicle". At least 2,000 people have been killed in violence this year in Sri Lanka, the military and ceasefire monitors say.


At least 129 Sri Lanka soldiers were killed in one day of fighting on Wednesday, and more than 300 soldiers injured. That figure represented the worst single day of casualties for the military since a ceasefire was signed in 2002. Correspondents say the violence could derail peace talks due to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of the month.

'Cowardly'

The government says the Tamil Tigers targeted a convoy of buses carrying navy servicemen going on leave in Monday's attack. "We are still pulling bodies from the wreckage," army spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe told. A number of civilians were reported to have been caught up in the blast. "Suicide bombers drove a truck packed with explosives into the area where there were about 15 buses of sailors," a police official in the nearby town of Sigiriya told the AFP news agency. A staff member from a nearby hotel told the BBC News website that the blast took place in a cleared area used as an army bus park. "It is quite an isolated place used by the army to set down and pick up army personnel," he said. "When we went to look at the scene, the road was jammed with vehicles and the army wouldn't let us through."

A spokesman for President Mahinda Rajapakse described the attack as "another example of the Tamil Tiger's cowardly use of extreme violence against unarmed services personnel".
The spokesman said the attack happened "in a civilian area away from the area of armed confrontation." "It was significant that this attack took place as foreign envoys from Japan, the US and Norway were arriving here to discuss progress in the peace process and the upcoming talks in Geneva," he said.

The rebels have so far not commented on the attack.

Another official told the Reuters news agency that 13 of the 15 buses had been damaged in the explosion, and that the dead and injured were being taken to a nearby hospital. Brigadier Samarasinghe said that three buses were still burning. The blast comes shortly after Japan's peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, met President Mahinda Rajapakse in the capital, Colombo. It was the first of a number of new diplomatic efforts ahead of talks due between the government and the Tamil Tigers at the end of October. Norway's peace envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, is due in the island on Tuesday. Richard Boucher, the US assistant secretary of state, is due on Thursday. The diplomats will be hoping to help the government and the Tamil Tigers rebels reconcile their differences. No details of the meeting between Mr Akashi and Mr Rajapakse have been released. Mr Akashi is due to meet senior Tamil Tigers in the north of the island later in the week.

Japan is one of the key international donors to Sri Lanka.

Trawler

There were more reports of violence over the weekend. The military said the navy destroyed a trawler carrying arms off the island's west coast on Sunday, leaving at least five rebels dead.

Four civilians were also killed in northern Jaffna peninsula in three separate incidents, the pro-rebel TamilNet website said. In each case it says the shootings were carried out by unidentified gunmen. At least three Sinhala civilians were reported to have been kidnapped and killed near the town of Vavuniya, 260km (160 miles) north of Colombo.

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