- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka | A suspected Tamil Tiger rebel who pretended to be a war refugee blew herself up Monday as Sri Lankan soldiers frisked her at a checkpoint. Twenty troops and eight civilians died.

State TV showed the carnage after the suicide bombing in Vishwamadu, a northeastern town where hundreds of civilians had been waiting to be sent to refugee camps. The footage, released by the government, showed bodies of women and children lying next to plastic lawn chairs. It did not show the bodies of any soldiers.

Government troops claim to be closing in on the Tamil Tiger rebels in their push to end a 25-year-old war that has killed about 70,000 people. The military has backed the rebels into a strip of land on the northeastern coast, and the Red Cross says about 250,000 civilians are trapped there, too.

The suicide attack Monday fed fears that the rebels could be stepping up guerrilla warfare in their battle for a separate state for the Tamil minority. The Tamil Tigers, blamed for more than 200 suicide attacks since 1983, are listed as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.

The bomber had concealed herself among more than 800 civilians who had crossed the front lines from rebel-held territory and were being searched by soldiers before being sent to camps farther south, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. He blamed the Tamil Tigers for the blast, which also wounded 24 troops and 40 civilians.

It was not possible to confirm the details of the attack. Independent journalists are barred from the war zone and most independent aid workers have fled the fighting.

The United States and United Nations condemned the bombing.

Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said more than 20,000 civilians have fled the shrinking area held by the rebels in recent days.

Last week, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accused the British Broadcasting Corp., CNN and Al Jazeera TV networks of favoring the Tamil rebels and warned that they might be banned from the country.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said Monday that it was suspending FM radio programming to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corp. starting Tuesday because of what it called “deliberate interference” in its broadcasts.

Meanwhile, in Colombo, hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans flocked to a patriotic exhibition displaying weapons, boats and even submarines captured from the rebels, underscoring growing optimism that decades of war could be drawing to a close.

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