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Four killed in bus ambush

Suspected rebel gunmen ambushed a crowded bus in Sri Lanka, killing four people, including a nine-year-old boy.

Government soldiers run across a field at Palampeddi village in north western Mannar, July 4, 2008. Sri Lanka beefed up security on Monday and warned of possible rebel attacks around the capital Colombo as the island's Tamil Tiger rebels marked the 21st anniversary of their first rebel suicide attack.
Government soldiers run across a field at Palampeddi village in north western Mannar, July 4, 2008. Sri Lanka beefed up security on Monday and warned of possible rebel attacks around the capital Colombo as the island's Tamil Tiger rebels marked the 21st anniversary of their first rebel suicide attack.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka // Suspected rebel gunmen ambushed a crowded bus in Sri Lanka, killing at least four people, including a nine-year-old boy, the military said. The attack came amid a sharp spike in fighting in the war between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels in the northern jungles, and underscored the rebels' continued ability to strike deep inside government-controlled territory.

A group of gunmen hiding by the side of the road near the southern village of Buttala raked the passing civilian bus with gunfire, said military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara. The bus driver sped through the ambush, only stopping when he reached safety, Mr Nanayakkara said. He blamed the rebels for the attack, which he said killed a boy and three women, wounding 26 others. Troops were sent to the remote site to try to find the assailants, he said. Rebel spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan, could not be reached for comment.

The Tamil Tigers have been blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians and are listed as a terror group by the United States, European Union and India. The rebels were blamed for a strike in Buttala on Jan 16 in which assailants bombed a bus, shooting the fleeing passengers and attacked nearby farmers as they retreated into the forest, killing 32 people. The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, who have been marginalised by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The government has stepped up fighting around the rebels' de facto state in the north in an effort to deliver on its promise to crush the group by the end of this year. New fighting along the northern front lines on Thursday killed 19 rebels and two soldiers, the military reported today. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own, and it was not possible to verify the accounts because reporters are barred from the war zone. The attack came as the government tightened security around the capital, Colombo, ahead of a major cricket tournament with rival India and a high-profile South Asia summit that begins at the end of this month. Mr Nanayakkara said beefed-up security for those events would not leave other parts of Sri Lanka vulnerable to further rebel attacks. "In all parts of the country, we have security arrangements," he said.

* AP