February 24, 2008 / 11:27 AM / 11 years ago

Suspected suicide blast in S.Lanka, jets bomb rebels

COLOMBO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A suspected Tamil Tiger suicide fighter blew himself up in east Sri Lanka on Sunday killing two members of a rival group, the military said, adding fighter jets had bombed a suspected rebel camp in the northwest.

The suicide blast in the eastern district of Batticaloa, from which the Tigers were evicted by the military last year amid a new phase in a two-decade civil war, comes just weeks ahead of a local election in the area.

The two men killed by the suicide blast were members of a group called TMVP, which was founded by a former rebel commander who split with the mainstream Tamil Tigers. It is seen as allied to the government, and has been accused of repeated abuses.

"Two TMVP members were killed. They were travelling by motorbike when a Tiger suicide cadre came along on a push-bike and rammed into them and exploded," said a military spokesman, declining to be identified in line with policy.

On Sunday morning, fighter jets bombed a suspected rebel leader camp in the northwestern district of Mannar, he added, but there were no immediate details of any casualties.

With a now customary lag of a day, the military said it had killed 47 Tigers in fighting across the north on Saturday, but offered no proof and there were no independent accounts of what had happened.

The Tigers were not immediately available for comment.

Analysts say the government’s rebel death toll figures are laughable, and say both sides inflate enemy losses for propaganda purposes.

Sunday’s violence came a day after a suspected Tiger bomb blast destroyed a passenger bus on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital, wounding 18 people, though the vehicle was evacuated beforehand and no-one was killed.

Fighting between the military and Tigers has escalated since the government formally pulled out of a six-year-old ceasefire pact in January.

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 Simon Gardner; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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