A bomb ripped through a bus as it stopped at a military checkpoint in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday, killing at least 16 civilians and wounding 25 others, the military said, blaming separatist Tamil rebels.
The bomb, which tore through the bus, shattered windows and left a bloody trail of debris and flesh, raised the death toll from the last 24 hours of violence in this war-ravaged island to at least 36.
The defense ministry immediately accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of setting off the bomb, while the rebels denied they were responsible.
Passengers were getting off the vehicle to be checked by troops manning a road block when the blast occurred, said police in the town of Ampara, 350km east of the capital Colombo.
"The bomb went off just at the Kondawattuwan check point," the police officer said.
"We now believe that the blast was aboard the bus. It may have been a parcel bomb or even a suicide attack," he said.
Lankathilaka Jayasinghe, the head of the Ampara hospital, said the injured were still being rushed to the region's main hospital.
"Three people were dead on admission and 12 others died in hospital," Jayasinghe said, adding that 25 more people were undergoing treatment.
Among the dead were 10 women and two children, said military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, adding that all the dead were civilians.
The LTTE denied involvement in the attack.
"We have nothing to do with this blast," rebel spokeswoman Navaruban Selvy said by telephone from the rebel head office in Kilinochchi, in the north of Sri Lanka.
The attack came as security forces tightened their grip on areas held by the LTTE, with elite police commandos making advances into jungle territory dominated by the guerrillas.
Sri Lankan jets and helicopter gunships also carried out night-time bombing raids against Tiger rebel positions over the weekend.
In other violence, six civilians were shot dead in Batticaloa, just north of Ampara, on Sunday night and the military and the LTTE blamed each other for the attack.
Another two civilians were gunned down on Sunday night in the north.
The rebels, however, accused a breakaway faction allied with government forces of carrying out the attacks.
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