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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 16:05 GMT
Deadly blast hits Sri Lanka bus
The bombed bus in Buttala, 16 January 2008
The bus was packed with civilians when it was bombed

At least 26 people have been killed and more than 60 hurt in a bomb attack on a packed bus in Sri Lanka, the army says.

The blast ripped through the vehicle in the town of Buttala, 240km (150 miles) south-east of the capital, Colombo.

Officials say another five people were killed by gunmen fleeing the attack and several soldiers were hurt in a second blast not far from the first explosion.

The army blamed Tamil Tiger rebels for the attacks, which came as the government formally ended a ceasefire.

Fighting had been going on in the north and east of the island for about two years despite the truce.

'Shots fired'

Army spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told the BBC four of those injured in the Buttala blast were children.

Everybody was screaming and I saw people on the ground in a bloodbath
TM Lalani,
Survivor

A roadside bomb was detonated as the vehicle was driving past, according to the defence ministry.

Brig Nanayakkara said the attackers fired shots into the wreckage after the explosion. Hospital officials have yet to say whether any of the bomb victims had gunshot wounds.

Bystanders told the BBC Sinhala service that the attackers, clad in black, had shot at them and fired in the air after the attack.

They could not confirm whether shots had been fired at those on the bus after the blast.

A woman bus passenger, who was taking her baby to the doctor, described the incident as a "bloodbath".

"I heard a loud noise and I thought it was a bomb, so I went under the seat of the bus with my baby and we heard firing for about five minutes," TM Lalani, 27, told Reuters news agency.

Map

"Everybody was screaming and I saw people on the ground in a bloodbath. My leg got injured from pieces of glass. Luckily my baby has not got any injuries."

The second blast took place a short distance away from the first - the target was an armoured vehicle and several soldiers were wounded, the military said.

The authorities say five farmers were then killed by gunmen fleeing from the scene of the first attack. A sixth was injured.

There was no immediate word from the rebels, who have carried out a number of attacks in the south in recent months.

Buttala is in a Sinhalese-dominated area, far from the rebels' northern stronghold.

President Rajapaksa accused the Tamil Tigers of savagery.

"This is a brazen demonstration to the whole world of [their] unchanged commitment to terrorism," he said.

Norwegian-led truce monitors, who are leaving Sri Lanka, said neither side could win the war. The US said a political solution was the only option.

'Ready to fight'

The government gave notice two weeks ago it was pulling out of the 2002 ceasefire agreement.

It says the rebels, who want an independent state in the north and east, used the peace pact to rearm and regroup. It now says it aims to crush them by the end of this year.

B Nadesan

The head of the Tigers' political wing B Nadesan told the BBC they were ready to fight.

"Definitely if they try to launch a major offensive against our forces, the Sri Lankan forces will face severe casualties," he said.

As the ceasefire came to an end fighting continued along the frontlines that surround territory held by the Tamil Tigers in northern Sri Lanka.

The government now says it will produce within weeks a long delayed package of devolution proposals.

It is seeking to sideline the separatist Tigers and resolve with other groups the complaints of the Tamil minority that they have been marginalised for decades by Sinhalese-dominated governments.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says there are serious doubts over whether the scheme can work.

As the last hours of the ceasefire ticked away the Japanese peace envoy, Yasushi Akashi, held meetings with government officials in Colombo.

Japan is a major donor to Sri Lanka and has hinted it might reconsider its aid package, warning of the dire humanitarian consequences of an intensified war.

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