Sri Lanka minister killed by roadside bomb blast

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The Independent Online

A Sri Lankan minister was killed by a roadside bomb planted by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels north of the capital today, a senior hospital official said, the second MP killed in a week as a protracted civil war escalates.

Nation Building Minister DM Dassanayake, whose vehicle was hit by the blast this morning in the town of Ja-Ela, 12 miles north of Colombo on the road to the island's only international airport, died on the operating table.

"He died a short while ago," said Lalini Gurusinghe, deputy director of the government teaching hospital in the nearby town of Ragama, where the minister and 10 others wounded in the blast were taken. One of his security detail also later died.

Local television broadcast footage of the ministers' Toyota Land Cruiser, its windows shattered, sides peppered with shrapnel sprayed by the Claymore fragmentation mine and blood smeared on a rear passenger door and in a pool on the ground.

A doctor was pictured sitting astride the minister on a trolley, pumping his chest as he was rushed to the operating theatre.

The bombing is the latest in series of attacks on government officials and the military in recent months, and comes just days after the government said it was formally scrapping a tattered ceasefire which degenerated into renewed civil war in early 2006.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who want to carve out an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment, but routinely deny involvement in such attacks.

This is definitely by the LTTE," said a military spokesman, declining to be named in line with policy.

Fighting continued elsewhere today, with fighter jets launching an air raid on a suspected rebel command post in the northwestern district of Mannar, while the military said troops killed 13 rebels in a series of clashes in the north and northeast.

The blast came minutes before Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake announced parliament had again extended emergency rule first imposed in late 2005 after the assassination of the island's foreign minister.

It also came a week after a prominent minority Tamil parliamentarian was shot dead in a Hindu temple in the capital.

The military says it has killed nearly 100 Tiger rebels since advising mediator Norway last week it was pulling out of the ceasefire pact, a move that has shocked the international community and is seen ruining any hope of resurrecting peace talks to end a 25-year civil war any time soon.

Just minutes before the blast, which took place midway between the capital and the airport, Deputy Tourism Minister Faizal Mustapha impressed on reporters that Sri Lanka was a safe tourist destination.

The government has vowed to wipe out the Tigers militarily, setting the stage for what many fear will be a bloody battle for the north as a death toll of around 70,000 people since the war erupted in 1983 climbs daily.

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