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The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo
"The bomb appears to have been targeted at the security forces"
 real 28k

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"It seems the blast was caused by a bomb in an ice cream box"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Bomb blast in Sri Lanka
Monk ties string on soldier's arm
Security personnel were celebrating Buddhism's holiest day
More than 20 people have been killed and 75 injured in a bomb explosion in eastern Sri Lanka.

The bomb went off in the eastern town of Batticaloa during celebrations to mark the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar, known as Wesak.

It exploded near the Buddhist temple in the town inside a high security zone.

It is not known who carried out the attack although in the past, Tamil Tiger rebels have been blamed for targeting security forces and police in the area using bombs and landmines.

Local residents said the bomb was placed in an ice-cream box on a bicycle.

The celebrations were attended by large numbers of people from the armed forces and police as well as local civilians.

Most of the dead were civilians, but they also included a police constable and two soldiers.

Jaffna fighting

The blast came as the Sri Lankan military said it had successfully repulsed a Tiger attack in the fighting in the north.

Sri Lankan artillery
The army says it has repelled a Tiger attack
At least 39 rebels were said to have been killed in their latest attempt to capture their former stronghold of Jaffna.

There are no independent confirmations of the report as journalists are banned from the war zone.

In another development, several rounds of mortar or artillery fire are reported to have landed near the government's main air base at Pallali on the Jaffna peninsula.

The Pallali air base is crucial for the government's military operation in the north to airlift troops and supplies for the continuing battle against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Rebel casualties

A defence ministry statement said waves of Tamil Tigers tried to overrun defences in the Colombuthurai district, and more than 30 were killed.

Tiger fighter
The Tigers claim to be on Jaffna's outskirts
The ministry also said troops captured a Tiger bunker on the main highway further to the east, killing nine rebels.

Soldiers backed by aircraft and artillery guns were said to have pounded rebel positions.

Three rebel boats on the Jaffna lagoon were also attacked by shells fired from tanks on the shore.

There has been no reaction as yet from the Tamil Tigers on the government's statements.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Colombo says analysts believe the government's success in halting the Tigers may be because the air force is attacking rebel positions and supply lines.

Peace urged

The latest outbreak of fighting came as President Chandrika Kumaratunga pledged to work for peace.

She used the occasion of the Buddhist holiday on Wednesday to call for national unity and end to the conflict.

"We will soon take steps to provide comprehensive and lasting solutions drawing from the philosophy of Buddhism based on equality with honour and co-existence which everybody can accept," she said.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic has urged followers to donate blood to treat wounded soldiers.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Nicholas Marcus Fernando, made his plea in a pastoral letter, in which he also asked Catholics to show their solidarity by scaling down on celebrations.

He also said they should devote two days at the end of May to prayers for peace.

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See also:

16 May 00 | South Asia
Trapped by the fighting
15 May 00 | South Asia
Civilians killed in Jaffna shelling
13 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
The war destroying Sri Lanka
17 May 00 | South Asia
Terror on Sri Lankan faultline
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