Bomb destroys bus near Sri Lankan capital, 18 hurt

MOUNT LAVINIA, Sri Lanka Sat Feb 23, 2008 2:25am EST

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MOUNT LAVINIA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - A suspected Tamil Tiger bomb blast destroyed a passenger bus on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital on Saturday, wounding 18 people, but no-one was killed.

The military said deaths were averted after a female passenger spotted a suspect parcel on the bus and informed the driver and conductor, who then evacuated the bus in the town of Mount Lavinia, just south of Colombo.

It was the latest in a series of bombings in recent months blamed on the rebels, who want a separate state in the Indian Ocean island's north and east.

A Reuters witness saw the charred, mangled wreckage of the bus, its rear blown completely apart.

"One lady has seen a suspicious parcel and informed the driver and conductor. They got everyone off the bus, and then the driver moved the bus 10-15 meters away from the bus stop," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

"They should be commended. No-one was killed," he added, saying the wounded included an 8-month-old child. "It was definitely the Tigers."

The Tigers were not immediately available for comment on the blast, but routinely deny involvement in attacks increasingly focused on civilians as a 25-year civil war enters a new phase.

The attack came a day after the Tigers, notorious for tit-for-tat attacks, said Sri Lankan government fighter jets killed eight civilians, including three young children, in an air raid on their northern stronghold.

Fighting between the military and Tigers has intensified since the government formally pulled out of a six-year-old ceasefire pact in January, though a renewed war has been raging since 2006.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government argues the Tigers used the truce to re-arm and were not sincere about talking peace. It has vowed to crush them militarily, and has captured large swathes of rebel-held territory in the east.

But analysts say neither side is winning, with the Tigers regularly hitting back with suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

The violence hurt tourist arrivals last year, which fell 12 percent from a year earlier, while the stock market slid nearly 7 percent in 2007, with some businesses shelving investment plans.

(Reporting by Buddhika Weerasinghe, Ranga Sirilal and Simon Gardner; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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