[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Sri Lanka attack causes carnage
Aftermath of attack on convoy of buses in Sri Lanka
The military said bodies had been pulled from the wreckage
At least 99 people have been killed in a Tamil Tiger suicide attack on a military bus convoy in northern Sri Lanka, the military says.

At least 100 people were hurt in a huge blast when an explosives-loaded truck rammed buses of troops, officials said.

In a BBC interview, the rebels did not confirm or deny the attack - the deadliest suicide blast in the long conflict - but said it was justified.

The government has launched air strikes on Tamil Tiger positions in the north.

Everywhere there were scattered bags of clothes, helmets, boots, equipment and the belongings of the sailors
Indumathie Jayasena
Local journalist

The buses, targeted at a site near the town of Habarana, 190km (120 miles) north-east of the capital Colombo, were carrying unarmed navy servicemen on leave, the military said.

The incident comes after at least 129 Sri Lanka soldiers were killed and 300 injured in fighting on Wednesday - the worst single day of casualties for the military since a ceasefire was signed in 2002.

Correspondents say the violence could derail peace talks due to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of the month.

'Cowardly'

The government has blamed the Tamil Tigers for Monday's attack, with a senior government minister calling it a "barbaric terrorist attack".

DESCENT INTO VIOLENCE
Map
16 October 2006: 99 killed in suicide attack on navy convoy
11 October 2006: 129 soldiers die in fighting between army and Tamil Tigers
4 September 2006: Troops take control of a crucial area near Trincomalee
14 August 2006: 61 schoolchildren killed by air force bombs, rebels say
7 August 2006: 17 local employees of a French charity shot dead in the town of Muttur
26 June 2006: A suspected suicide bomber kills a top Sri Lankan general near Colombo
15 June 2006: At least 64 - many children - die in mine attack on bus

The defence ministry said more than 340 navy personnel were present at the site when the 24-bus convoy was attacked.

Several civilians, including tea vendors working at the site, may have been among the casualties, local police said.

A spokesman for President Mahinda Rajapakse described the attack as "cowardly", pointing out that it took place "in a civilian area away from the area of armed confrontation".

The military launched air strikes against Tamil Tiger positions in the north of Sri Lanka, a military spokesman said.

An air force fighter jet crashed in a lagoon about 30km (18 miles) from Colombo although the pilot ejected to safety, the military said.

'Village bombed'

Rasaiah Ilanthirayan, a spokesman for the Tamil Tigers, said: "To this moment, I do not know for sure who did this."

But he indicated that it could have been the Tigers.

"There is a possibility of that kind of targeting, but this particular target, I am not sure until I get information from the Eastern Commander," he told the BBC.

In a BBC interview earlier, a Tigers spokesman had said the attack was justified, after accusing the Sri Lankan military of targeting Tamil civilians.

A Tamil Tiger spokesman told Reuters news agency that Sri Lankan planes had bombed a village near the north-eastern town of Mullaitivu late on Monday and several civilians were feared killed.

Diplomatic efforts

The convoy attack comes shortly after Japan's peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, met President Rajapakse in the capital, Colombo.

Bomb victim being treated at Anuradhapura Hospital
Nearby hospitals treated victims of the blast (Picture by Athula Bandara)
Later in the week, he is due to meet senior Tamil Tigers in the north of the island and envoys from Norway and the US are scheduled to arrive.

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Colombo says that given the climate of violence, there is little optimism about what is likely to be achieved in the Geneva talks.

At least 2,000 people have been killed in violence this year in Sri Lanka, the military and ceasefire monitors say.

Before the 2002 ceasefire, more than 60,000 people were killed in two decades of civil war.

The Tamil Tigers are fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the country, and claim that ethnic Tamils have suffered decades of discrimination at the hands of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Aftermath of the Sri Lanka bus attack



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific