Suspected Tamil rebels posing as fishermen yesterday blew up two of their boats in a suicide ambush on a naval base, killing at least one sailor in the first such attack on Sri Lanka's touristy southern coast, the military said. Police imposed an open-ended curfew in the town.
Two sailors were also missing and at least 12 others wounded in the attack in the resort town of Galle, while two navy vessels and another small boat suffered damage, a Defense Ministry spokesman said, adding that 14 civilians were also wounded.
Police imposed an open-ended curfew in Galle, and a reporter there said the town was calm but under heavy security.
A resident in Galle said there had been one incident of people attacking a Tamil shop, but that the violence had not spread, he said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. He said parents were taking their children home from school.
Hours after the attack, the military launched airstrikes on Tamil Tiger targets in eastern Batticaloa.
The Tigers said in a statement that the air force attack on rebel-controlled areas killed one civilian and wounded two others, including a 10-year-old boy.
Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe confirmed the air attacks, but denied they targeted civilian areas.
The suicide bombing in Galle could signal a major shift for the Tamil Tiger rebels, whose decades-long campaign for a separate homeland for minority ethnic Tamils has largely focused on Sri Lanka's north and east, which they claim as their cultural heartland.
It could also be a major blow to Sri Lanka's tourism industry, with peak season about to begin.
The suspected Tamil Tiger rebels blew up two of their boats after entering the harbor posing as fishermen, while the navy destroyed the remaining three boats, the defense ministry spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing agency policy.
All the rebels were killed, but it was not immediately clear how many insurgents were aboard the boats, he said.