Sri Lankan president hurt by suicide bomb

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By Peter Popham In Colombo

By Peter Popham In Colombo

19 December 1999

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was running for re-election this week, was in intensive care in a private hospital in Colombo yesterday after yet another suicide bomb attack by the island's rebel movement, the Tamil Tigers.

Voting in the election takes place on Tuesday, and yesterday was the last day of campaigning. Mrs Kumaratunga was addressing a rally of her People's Alliance in the town hall when the suicide bomber ignited the device, reportedly killing 13 people, including a senior police officer. Two cabinet ministers were said to be badly injured, while Mrs Kumaratunga sustained an eye injury. The extent of the wound is unclear, although spokesmen said her injuries were slight and she was in no danger.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, have not claimed responsibility for either explosion, but the means of detonation is the organisation's horrific trademark. They have been blamed for a long series of political assassinations, including a former Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who died when a suicide bomber draped a garland round his neck then detonated her device.

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka for the Tamils, the nation's largest ethnic minority, in the north-east, for more than 16 years. Under the ruthless leadership of Velupillai Prabakaran, they have eliminated most voices of moderation in the Tamil community.

Jumpy young men armed with Kalashnikovs guarded the Navaloka private hospital where Mrs Kumaratunga was taken yesterday. Elected president in 1994, she called elections one year earlier than constitutionally necessary. The Tigers responded last month with a devastating military attack on positions taken in the north of the island by the Sri Lankan army over the past two years.

Mrs Kumaratunga, scion of the family that has governed Sri Lanka for half its history as an independent nation, came to power as the candidate for peace. Since the recovery of the Jaffna peninsula from the Tigers in 1995, the Sri Lankan army has been embroiled in a fierce military conflict with the guerrilla organisation, which has strongly defended its headquarters near Mulaitivu, on the north-east coast.

Prabakaran , the undisputed leader of the Tigers, began his life as a terrorist by murdering a political enemy while still a teenager. The Tigers can now claim to be one of the most successful and highly motivated guerrilla forces in the world - though beyond the fierce loyalty and fanatical discipline there is little to suggest that they can ever make civil partners in the government of the island. Their brutal policies towards internal dissidents and other minorities in their midst, such as Muslims and Christians, evoke the worst barbarities of Pol Pot or Radovan Karadjic.