Rebels Targeted in Sri Lankan Air Strikes for Second Day
COLOMBO, June 16 - The Sri Lankan military resumed air strikes against rebel targets for the second day, in apparent retaliation for a landmine attack on Thursday that killed 64 passengers on a bus in the north of the country.
Air Vice Marshall Donald Perera, chief of staff of Sri Lanka's combined Army, Navy and Air Force, said today that the aerial bombing targeted an airstrip controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, near their headquarters town of Kilinochchi in the north. Several rebel naval installations on the northeastern coast were also hit. The bombings, which went on intermittently for four hours, stopped by late afternoon.
"The air strikes took place as a deterrent measure, and under the instruction of the Ministry of Defense it has stopped," Air Vice Marshall Perera said.
European-led truce monitors said they have not yet seen evidence of major casualties. The Tamil Tigers denied the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission access to their closely guarded airstrip.
"We are still assessing the situation and our response," the head of the rebel peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan, told Reuters by telephone. "It looks as though the government is ready for war."
The air raids, along with artillery fire from land and sea, began on Thursday after a bus, carrying civilians to a market town in the northern Anuradhapura district, was ripped apart by a pair of claymore fragmentation mines. It was the bloodiest attack since a cease-fire was signed in Feb. 2002. The government swiftly blamed the Tamil Tigers, who in turn accused the government.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a statement today that it "cannot at this moment determine who is behind this brutal act, nor what could be the motive for such threat to humanity."
In Kilinochchi, aid workers said they scrambled into bunkers when they heard the sound of approaching planes early this morning. All international workers in the area have been instructed to keep to their compound. Anton Rajan, a United Nations employee, recalled hearing eight bombs. The town did not appear to have been hit, Mr. Rajan said by telephone, but that they "seemed close."
His family scanned the skies intermittently throughout the hours of darkness. "It seems as if the war has begun," Mr. Rajan said after a restless night.
The Tamil Tigers issued instructions via loudspeakers, urging civilians in Kilinochchi to report for rebel-led arms training, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, in Anuradhapura, the bodies of those killed in the bus attack were buried in three massive pits. Since April alone, more than 500 people have died as clashes have intensified.
Von: June 16, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com By SHIMALI SENANAYAKE