Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tamil Tigers mine kills Sri Lanka minister

Tamil Tigers mine kills Sri Lanka minister

Colombo (dpa) - A government minister belonging to Sri Lanka's ruling party was killed Tuesday by a landmine blast on the outskirts of Colombo, said police, who blamed Tamil separatist rebels for the attack.

Nation-Building Minister DM Dassanayaka, 54, was on his way to parliament when he was caught in the blast at Ja-Ela, 20 kilometres north of the capital. He died from his wounds after being taken to hospital.

His police bodyguard was also killed in the blast while nine people were injured and were undergoing treatment. Dr Lalani Gunasinghe at Ragama hospital, where the injured were taken, said the condition of five of the injured was serious.

The blast occurred on the road to the country's only international airport at Katunayaka. Dassanayaka's security personnel and civilians were among the injured, police said.

The minister was in charge of rehabilitation and reconstruction, mainly in areas affected by the government's conflict with separatist Tamil rebels, and was a regular visitor to villages affected by the fighting.

Parliament expressed condolences for the death of Dassanayaka, who had been a member since 1994, representing a remote area in the north-western part of the country.

The attack came a week after opposition parliamentarian T Maheshwaran was gunned down inside a Hindu temple in the capital. The opposition blamed the government for failing to provide enough security.

Opposition members of parliament demanded that the security of all MPs be increased from two personnel to five and additional security be provided for MPs under threat.

Parliamentary speaker WJM Lokubandara is expected to discuss the issue with the inspector general of police and to make the necessary arrangements.

The claymore mine attack also caused concern among government members who have to travel to the capital to attend parliamentary sessions and visit their ministries.

Of the 114 members backing the ruling party a record number (108) are ministers, making it difficult for the police to provide security for them all as a minister is entitled to more security than a normal MP. Sri Lanka's parliament has 225 members.

On Tuesday evening a bomb went off in the heart of the capital close to the high security zone, which includes the air force headquarters, injuring two people, police said.

Police said that they were investigating whether the bomb placed in a telephone booth on the roadside had been meant for an air force officer or any VIP passing the location.

Only two people suffered minor injuries as most office workers using the route had passed the area by the time of the explosion.

The government has vowed to crush the Tamil rebels within this year. The ethnic conflict has raged in northern Sri Lanka since 1983 and has claimed more than 74,000 lives. The Tamil rebels are fighting for a separate homeland.

On Monday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa called on the public to support his efforts to "liberate the northern masses" from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which controls parts of the north.

"Kindly grant me the opportunity to liberate the innocent and miserable masses of the north, who are in grave and imminent danger at the hands of the LTTE," Rajapaksa said at a rally. "They are deprived of their basic fundamental rights, facilities and the freedom which people elsewhere in the country enjoy."

On Tuesday, the military continued its offensive against the LTTE, including an airstrike on what it called a rebel command centre in the north-west.

Also Tuesday at least 10 rebels were killed in two separate confrontations in the northern district of Wanni, more than 240 kilometres north of the capital Colombo, the military said.

Fighting has escalated in the north and more than 5,800 people have been killed in the conflict during the past two years. Last week the Sri Lankan government announced it was withdrawing from a Norwegian-backed ceasefire agreement signed with the rebels nearly six years ago.

03:26 Jan 09, 2008

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