Sri Lanka warning for British tourists

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The Independent Online
TIM MCGIRK

New Delhi

The Foreign Office is warning Britons of a "clear risk" of danger in Sri Lanka after four bomb blasts in Colombo within a week. "We're not telling British nationals not to come, since there's no evidence that Britons are being specifically targeted,'' a High Commission spokesman in the city said. ''But there's clearly a risk of other bombs going off." A travel advisory warned: "Exercise caution in public places."

The Sri Lankan authorities admit it was luck that saved dozens of travellers from being killed at Colombo's international airport two weeks ago when the detonators on a 24kg bomb hidden in a parked van exploded prematurely. The main charge failed to go off.

Bombs have also exploded in a bar, a bus and along Colombo's seafront road, where most of the city's top hotels are situated, wounding six people.

But the attempt at the airport, according to diplomats, marks a "deadly new twist" in the ethnic violence that has plagued Sri Lanka for 13 years, leaving more than 30,000 dead. Until now, the war has been confined mainly to the north and east of the island, far from the white beaches of the south, visited last year by more than 40,000 Britons .

The Ellalan Force, an extremist Tamil group, claimed responsibility for the airport incident and threatened more attacks. It also warned tourists to stay away from the country and accused the military of using Tamil civilians as human shields in the civil war. "The government is getting funds from tourism to kill Tamils," it said.

The main rebel organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, are accused of having assassinated a president, several generals and cabinet ministers, and an opposition politician - all with explosives.

In the past, the Tigers' strategy has been to scare away tourists rather than kill them. But the airport device, experts say, was calculated to cause great damage and loss of life.

"The Tigers are trying to sabotage our tourism industry," one Colombo official said.

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