- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Tamil rebels rammed a truck packed with explosives into a convoy of military buses yesterday, killing at least 93 sailors in one of the deadliest insurgent attacks since the 2002 cease-fire.

The military said more than 150 were wounded in the attack near the town of Dambulla, about 90 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo.

“All these people were without weapons and were going on leave,” military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said. The buses were carrying sailors from the port town of Trincomalee, he added.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s office said the attack “was further proof of the [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s] unmitigated commitment to violence to achieve its ends and was in total disregard of international demands for it to abandon violence and seek peaceful means to achieve its goals.”

The attack comes as a Japanese envoy met with the president yesterday amid intensified diplomatic efforts to strengthen the peace process between the government and rebels ahead of scheduled talks between the two sides later this month in Switzerland.

There was no comment from the rebels on the attack, although they routinely deny involvement.

The Japanese envoy, Yasushi Akashi, also planned to travel to the rebel stronghold in the north to talk with the LTTE leadership during his five days in Sri Lanka.

Thorfinnur Omarsson, a spokesman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, urged the government and rebels to keep their commitment to the peace talks despite the deadly attack.

“Obviously this is a brutal attack and a serious threat to the peace process,” Mr. Omarsson said. “But the people of Sri Lanka deserve that the talks will take place as planned.”

Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer was scheduled to return to the island this week, while U.S. envoy Richard A. Boucher will make a two-day visit to Sri Lanka starting Thursday.

Sri Lanka has seen some of the bloodiest fighting since a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire was signed in 2002, temporarily ending nearly two decades of civil war. Heavy battles on Wednesday on the northern Jaffna Peninsula left hundreds of combatants dead, despite commitments by both the government and rebels to return to the negotiating table.

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