- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A female suicide bomber disguised to look pregnant blew herself up in front of a car carrying Sri Lanka’s highest-ranking general yesterday, killing eight persons and badly wounding the top officer. Twenty-six others also were injured.

The air force later carried out attacks on areas controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebel movement, a rebel official and witnesses reported.

The attack and apparent military retaliation were further blows to an already fraying cease-fire that took effect four years ago on this island nation near the southern tip of India. At least 89 persons, including 43 soldiers or police, have died in violence this month.

Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka suffered serious abdominal injuries, underwent surgery and was in stable condition after the brazen attack on the army’s heavily fortified headquarters, military and medical officials said.

The general’s driver and 26 persons, including several civilians, were wounded, an army spokesman said. It was not clear whether any other top Sri Lankan military officials were hurt, or whether the eight killed included the bomber.

Gen. Fonseka, a battle-hardened soldier with 35 years in the infantry, was appointed to the service’s highest post after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse took office in November.

The bombing occurred inside the military’s headquarters complex, which is protected by fences and troops guarding all entrances. The attacker entered the grounds using fake identification and claiming to have a prenatal appointment at the army’s hospital, military officials said.

Police blamed ethnic Tamil insurgents, who often have used women to carry out suicide attacks in their long fight for a separate homeland on the island, whose government is dominated by the Sinhalese majority.

A rebel official and witnesses said the military responded hours later with air strikes and mortar attacks in the guerrilla-held region of Trincomalee, 135 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo.

“There are at least two aircraft dropping bombs into our areas, and there is shelling from army camps nearby,” a rebel official, S. Elilan, said by telephone from Trincomalee.

The rebels accuse the Sinhalese-dominated government of discrimination against the minority Tamils. A Norwegian-brokered cease-fire halted full-scale fighting in 2002, calming a war that had killed more than 65,000 people over two decades, but clashes have continued.

The rebels are known for their deadly suicide cadres. Their first suicide attack came in July 1987, when a rebel drove a truckload of explosives into a military camp, killing 40 soldiers.

Since then, 240 Tamil rebels have blown themselves up in attacks that have killed former Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and dozens more.

Last week, the rebels backed out of peace talks scheduled to have started Monday in Geneva, citing attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and other disputes with the government.

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