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Bus Explosion Kills Sri Lankan School Children


An explosion ripped apart a bus carrying school children in rural Sri Lanka and authorities say it appears to have been a Tamil Tiger attack. As VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi the blast killed at least 23 people and injured nearly 70 others.

A bomb or land mine planted on the side of a rural road is believed to have caused the explosion Wednesday morning in a remote town in southeastern Sri Lanka.

The bus was carrying scores of school children, many of whom were killed or injured.

The blast came just hours after the official end of a truce between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers.

Lakshman Hulugalle, director-general of the government's Media Center for National Security, says the rebels have targeted civilians in government-held areas after being routed by the military in their northern stronghold.

"Terrorists when they can't face the (military) forces and when they have had heavy defeats in the northern area, this is to make uncertainty in the southern part of Sri Lanka, including the capital," he said.

While Sri Lanka's military has begun a new offensive in an effort to crush the rebellion, the Tamil Tigers appear ready to continue suicide attacks and other bombings against government and civilian targets.

Spokesman Hulugalle in the capital says there is no way the government can fully protect people from terrorist attacks.

"When there is guerrilla warfare going on and this is not face to face (combat) they can make use of these tactics, especially when they have suiciders (suicide bombers). When they make use of various areas, no country, no leader can give assurances or a guarantee on a thing like this," he said.

A cease-fire brokered by Norway in 2002 began collapsing two years ago. Since the government told Norwegian officials two weeks ago that it would end the peace pact, the military reports more than 300 people have been killed on the front lines in the north.

The LTTE is fighting for a homeland in northeastern Sri Lanka for the nation's ethnic Tamil minority. About 70,000 people have died in the conflict since 1983.

Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi, a key figure throughout the years of peace negotiations, warns of "dire humanitarian consequences" with the end of the cease-fire.

Akashi says Japan might halt its aid to Sri Lanka if the government does not do something to reduce the fighting.