The ambassadors of Germany, Italy and the US were wounded in Sri Lanka yesterday in an artillery attack by Tamil Tiger rebels, a minister said.
It was thought to be one of the worst attacks to hit foreign nationals in decades of ethnic conflict on the troubled island, and a doctor said Italian ambassador Pio Mariani had sustained a head injury.
US ambassador Robert Blake and his German counterpart Juergen Weerth were slightly hurt and not admitted to hospital, officials said.
The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) expressed "deep regret" but accused the government of risking the lives of foreign nationals by not informing the guerrillas in advance of their arrival.
The government defense spokesman rejected the rebel statement.
"Everyone knew that foreign diplomats were visiting the area today to discuss the humanitarian situation," Keheliya Rambukwella said. "The Tigers deliberately targeted the foreigners."
The foreign diplomats were visiting the troubled region of Batticaloa, where Tiger rebels and government forces have been locked in a cycle of bloodshed despite a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreed in 2002.
"A shell fell a short distance away from where we were," said Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who was accompanying the diplomats when the attack took place after one of their two helicopters landed.
"We heard about four explosions," the minister said. "The ambassadors are slightly hurt."
A doctor at the main hospital in Batticaloa said Italy's Mariani had been transferred to the capital Colombo with head injuries.
"The diplomat has a foreign object embedded inside his head," hospital director Muruganathan Moorthy said. "We had a total of 11 people admitted after the shell attack."
He said four policemen, five military personnel and a child were also injured and taken to hospital.
The Tigers said the shelling stopped after a UN official contacted them to explain that diplomats were on board.
"This is criminal negligence on the part of the Sri Lankan government," the LTTE said in a statement.
The Tigers said the military was using the helicopter landing points to launch artillery attacks against Tigers and that a similar attack had taken place before the Tigers retaliated yesterday.
"The Sri Lankan military also uses these two locations as artillery positions. Even this morning there was provocative shelling by the Sri Lankan military in Batticaloa," the Tigers said.