Colombo vows to hit back at Tigers

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Colombo - Sri Lanka's Justice Minister, G L Peiris, vowed yesterday to intensify military operations against Tamil Tiger rebels after a suicide bomb in the heart of Colombo killed an estimated 80 people.

"This calamity underlines the paramount need to defeat the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]. Military operations will be intensified in the north and east," Mr Peiris said. "The government also believes, if its strategy is to be successful and the LTTE is to be overcome, there must also be a political initiative to offer justice to all sections of our people," he said, referring to a government peace plan.

Colombo's general hospital, crowded with people searching for relatives who might be among the injured from Wednesday's bomb attack, said it had 60 bodies in the morgue. Police supervising rescue work at the central bank and seven nearby buildings gutted by the blast said eight charred bodies were unearthed from the rubble yesterday morning. They said rescue workers expected to find at least a dozen more.

The toll could rise further, with at least 100 critically injured in hospital. The acting national police chief, Mithra Ariyasinghe, said nearly 1,300 people had been hurt and more than 900 were still in hospital. The 440lb (200kg) truck bomb was aimed at the central bank in what officials said was an attack on the Sri Lankan economy.

Criminal Investigation Department officials said two men, captured along with rifles, bomb-making kits and radio transmitters, had identified themselves only as Ragunathan and Kutti. They were said to have identified the suicide bomber as Raj. Security forces were still searching for other hit-squad members who had arrived from the north on 8 January, Mr Ariyasinghe said.

The government had been expecting an attack in Colombo ever since security forces seized the Tiger stronghold of Jaffna in December, the biggest setback for the rebels in their 13-year war for independence in the north and east.