Top Sri Lankan military officer killed

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A suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up next to a car carrying a top Sri Lankan general today, killing the third-highest ranking officer in the military and three other people.

The government blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels for the blast.

"The attack carries the hallmark of the LTTE," said chief government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, using the initials of the insurgents' formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

There was no comment from the rebels, but a pro-rebel website reported the attack without comment.

Four months of violence have brought Sri Lanka dangerously close to the brink of resuming full-scale civil war, and today's attack came just over two months after the Tigers' tried to kill Sri Lanka's top military commander in a suicide bombing in Colombo.

The car carrying Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga was taking the general to work in Colombo when it was hit by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle, said military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe. The attack took place close to his home in Pannipitiya, nine miles south-east of Colombo's city centre.

Kulatunga was a hardened combat veteran who had led numerous operations against the rebels in the Sri Lanka's north-east, the main theatre of fighting during nearly two decades of full-scale war.

Kulatunga survived the initial blast, but died on the way to the city's National Hospital, Samarasinghe said.

An hour after the explosion, the general's Peugeot was still on fire. Another vehicle in the general's convoy, a pickup-truck, was also damaged.

The blast also killed the general's driver, a security guard and a civilian passer-by, the military said. Five other bystanders were wounded and admitted to a hospital.

Discrimination against Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils, most of whom are Hindu, led the Tigers to take up arms in 1983. The resulting war on this tropical island of 19 million people - nearly three-quarters of them Buddhist Sinhalese - left more than 65,000 people dead before a 2002 cease-fire.

But talks to build on the truce soon faltered and in the past year, sporadic shootings and bombings have escalated into near-daily violence. Almost 700 people, more than half of them civilians, have been killed since April.

Throughout the conflict, the Tamil Tigers have used suicide bombers to target Sri Lanka's military and political elite.

The rebels' separatist war in mostly confined to the north-east, where they want to curve out a separate Tamil homeland, though they do sometimes target people in Colombo.

In April, a female rebel bomber tried to kill the country's top general at a military base in Colombo. Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka escaped the attack with injuries, but at least 12 others died in the blast.

In July 2004, a rebel suicide bomber targeted Douglas Devananda, a government minister and a moderate Tamil leader who opposes the rebels. The bomber detonated explosives, killing four people, while being frisked at a police station.