A blast blamed on separatist Tamil Tigers wounded 45 people in Sri Lanka’s capital yesterday, while renewed fighting in the embattled north killed 18 rebels and three soldiers, the military said.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara accused the Tamil rebels of setting off the blast on a busy street in the heart of Colombo.
“They are desperate because of defeats along the northern front lines and are targeting civilians,” Nanayakkara said.
The small bomb exploded in a commercial area shortly after noon, tearing through a crowd of weekend shoppers.
“There was big sound and people screamed and ran in all directions. I saw several people covered with blood lying on the ground,” said Shantha Ratnayake, who was passing the area when blast occurred.
Fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war has escalated in recent months, with the military capturing a series of rebel bases and large chunks of territory. Officials have reiterated a pledge to crush the guerrillas by the end of the year.
Hospital spokesman Anil Jasinghe said 45 people were receiving treatment for injuries received in yesterday’s blast.
“Most of them have suffered minor injuries,” he said, adding that no deaths were reported.
Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls for comment, but the Tamil Tigers routinely deny responsibility for such attacks.
The rebels, blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians, are listed as a terrorist group by the US, the EU and India.
Meanwhile, fighting continued on Friday along the front lines that separate government-held territory and the rebels’ de facto state in the north, the Defense Ministry said.
In the worst battle, soldiers killed eight rebels in two separate clashes in Kilinochchi District.
Two soldiers were also killed, it said.
Other fighting in Vavuniya, Welioya and Jaffna killed 10 guerrillas and one soldier, while eight soldiers were wounded, the statement said.
Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because most journalists are barred from the war zone.
Amid escalating violence, the government is urging civilians living in rebel-held areas to flee to government-controlled territory, saying it would ensure their safety. Government helicopters dropped leaflets on Thursday in rebel-held areas urging villagers to leave.