A powerful bomb ripped through a busy commercial area of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo today, wounding 45 people, police and doctors said. A package left near a fruit vendor exploded in Pettah, the main commercial hub of the capital, police said, adding that the blast was also a short distance away from the main bus station and the railway terminal. "We received 45 people injured in the blast," said a director of the Colombo National Hospital, Anil Jasinghe. "There are four women and two children among the wounded. Only two or three need surgery, others have light to moderate injuries," he said.
Police cordoned off the bustling commercial area following the bombing, which came as government forces kept up a major offensive against separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the north of the island. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for today's attack, but police and military officials said they suspected the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrillas. The Tigers have also been blamed for a string of bomb attacks against public transport and other blasts in recent months as the military intensified pressure on the rebels' mini-state in the island's north.
The attack came as the defence ministry said another 18 guerrillas and a government soldier were killed in fresh fighting across the island's north on Friday. The latest fighting brought the number of rebels killed by troops since January to 6,185, according to government figures. The government says 582 of its troops have died over the same period. The bombing in Colombo's Pettah area came a day after Tiger rebels accused government forces of setting off a roadside bomb and killing two civilians inside guerrilla-held territory.
A man and a child died when their motorcycle was caught up in the bomb attack at Nedunkerni in the vast Wanni region on Thursday evening, the LTTE said in a statement yesterday. The military routinely denies that it carries out attacks against civilians inside Tamil Tiger-controlled areas. It is impossible to verify independently casualty figures as the government bars access to the front-lines by journalists and rights groups.
UN aid agencies say nearly 135,000 people have been driven from their homes due to fierce fighting in the past two months. Sri Lankan troops have been pushing deeper into rebel-held territory as they try to dismantle the LTTE's northern stronghold. They ejected the guerrillas from the east of the island in July 2007. Tens of thousands have died on both sides since the LTTE launched a separatist campaign in 1972 for a homeland for minority Tamils in the island's north and east.