COLOMBO (Reuters) - Three trucks carrying explosives blew up inside a police compound in eastern Sri Lanka on Friday, killing at least 25 people in what the military called an accident.
The blast occurred in Karayinadaru, about 50 km from the eastern port of Batticaloa and in an ethnically mixed area controlled by the Tamil Tiger separatists until 2007.
“The final death toll figure is 25 including 16 police officers and nine civilians including two Chinese nationals,” military spokesman Major-General Ubaya Medawela said.
Earlier, he had given a death toll of 60 killed, saying most were police officers. He did not elaborate on why the death toll had been reduced by more than half.
At least 52 were wounded, with three dying in hospital, P. Murugananda, director at Batticaloa General Hospital, told Reuters by telephone.
Two Chinese employees of a Chinese construction company doing road work in the area were among the dead, he said. The trucks were parked inside the compound around the police station in Karadiyanaru, he said.
The Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yang Xiuping, was headed out to inspect the blast site, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
Pictures on local TV showed a building with two sections of wall collapsed into piles of rubble, the twisted wreckage of the trucks and bodies strewn on the ground.
In a country that suffered hundreds of suicide bombings during the three-decade separatist conflict with the Tamil Tigers that the government won last year, there is bound to be suspicion that the blast was not accidental.
However, the government has had control of eastern Sri Lanka since 2007 after pairing up with a breakaway Tiger faction to drive out the Tigers. In May 2009, the military completely destroyed the separatist forces and killed all its top leaders.
While there is still a sizeable police and military presence, the ethnically mixed east has been opened up and seen a surge in local tourism. However, issues of land ownership remain volatile and violence between armed groups is not uncommon.
“Remnant, frustrated elements that have lived with explosives for the last 30 years can sabotage these things,” said Kusal Perera, an analyst with the Center for Social Democracy in Colombo who is a frequent government critic.
“There is lots of simmering frustration in those areas where their problems are not solved,” he said.
Sri Lanka has had three insurgencies since an uprising by the Marxist JVP erupted in the south in 1971, plus the Tamil Tiger war that kicked off in earnest in 1983 and another JVP insurrection in 1988-89.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing;Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani