August 26, 2007 / 2:15 PM / 12 years ago

Sri Lanka defuses suspected rebel bomb near pageant

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan security forces defused three suspected Tamil Tiger rebel bombs on Sunday, including one in the ancient central hill capital of Kandy where thousands of people are attending a Buddhist pageant.

The discovery of a bomb in Kandy came on the eve of a visit to the island by senior Myanmar military junta figure Lieutenant General Thein Sein, who is due to attend the annual pageant on Tuesday with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Police are conducting investigations to find out the nature of the explosives they used,” police spokesman Jayantha Wickramaratne said, adding that the device was a Claymore mine like those used in a spree of Tamil Tiger attacks on troops in recent months. “It was definitely the Tigers.”

Witnesses in Kandy said the bomb had been placed next to a wall in a side street. Security in the town was heavy, with troops conducting spot body checks.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who bombed Kandy’s venerated Temple of the Tooth in 1998 and are seeking to carve out an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, denied involvement.

“I can tell you we had nothing to do with anything in Kandy,” rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said by telephone from the Tigers’ northern stronghold of Kilinochchi.

The Kandy pageant is the island’s premier festival, attracting thousands of people each year, and reaches a climax on Tuesday, when an elephant will carry the sacred Buddha’s tooth relic during the hours-long procession.

Earlier on Sunday, troops discovered two Claymore mines near the coastal village of Kalpitiya around 70 miles north of the capital.

“We recovered two Claymore mines, each weighing 15 kg (33 lb),” a spokesman for the Media Centre for National Security said, asking not to be named. “They were rigged to explode simultaneously using a remote control.

“We’re not sure who the intended targets were — maybe police vehicles or politicians who use that road,” he added.

The discoveries came amid near daily ambushes, killings and land and sea clashes between troops and rebels in a new chapter in a two-decade civil war that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983.

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