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Deadly Bomb Shakes Peace Hopes in Sri Lanka

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Sri Lanka's government says it will retaliate for yesterday's suicide bombing. It was blamed on the Tamil Tigers - those are rebels who began their fight years ago, on the island off the coast of India.

Just two weeks from now, peace talks were supposed to resume. And then, a truck bomb killed more than 90 people - mostly from the Sri Lanka Navy. Here's NPR's south Asia correspondent Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES: This week was supposed to be about diplomacy. A Japanese peace envoy has just arrived in Sri Lanka. So has a Norwegian mediator. Later in the week, an American envoy, Richard Boucher is expected. It's all part of an effort to restore calm to the island.

A four-year cease-fire was shattered in July, when fighting resumed between government forces and Tamil Tigers - seeking a homeland for the island's Tamil minority in the north and east.

The suicide truck bomb was one of the bloodiest single attacks in Sri Lanka, since the start of civil war more than 30 years ago. It blew up a convoy of buses near the town of Habarana, a transit point for naval personnel heading out on leave.

Rohan Edrisinha of the Sri Lankan think tank, The Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the bombing has deepened the public mood of apprehension, especially in the conflict zones.

Mr. ROHAN EDRISINHA (Centre for Policy Alternatives): There's a lot of fear, a lot of tension in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka among the Tamil community, the Muslims, and the Singhalese.

REEVES: Despite the scale of the attack, so far, plans to go ahead with the peace talk sometime soon remain in place. The Sri Lankan government, today said, it was still committed to them.

In recent weeks, the Sri Lankan military has made several territorial gains. Some political analysts say these successes have reinforced the view of hard-line elements within the army that the use of military force against the Tamil Tigers is proving effective.

But last week, more than 120 government troops were killed battling the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, in the north. And then, yesterday's bomb happened. Rohan Edrisinha again.

Mr. EDRISINHA: I do think that the significance of the military attack yesterday by the LTTE was to caution the government of Sri Lanka not to be overly confident about their military successes in the previous weeks.

REEVES: Lasantha Wickramatunga - editor of Sri Lanka's Sunday Leader newspaper - believes those losses in yesterday's bombing will serve as a reminder that the conflict can only be solved by negotiation.

Mr. LASANTHA WICKRAMATUNGA (Editor, Sunday Leader, Sri Lanka): The developments of the last ten days (Unintelligible) the reality that this is not a conflict that can be resolved through military means - that both sides must sit down and negotiate a settlement using the (Unintelligible) of the international communities.

(Soundbite of children)

REEVES: Unless talks succeed, the misery will continue for several hundred thousand people displaced by the fighting.

In the squalid refugee camp near the northeastern town of Trincomalee., the chief concern recently was the number of people who've been abducted and killed. No one feels safe.

Mr. SHAMAGURAJA KAMALENDREN(ph) (Refugee): (Speaking foreign language)

REEVES: We came here, says Shamaguraja Kamalendren, because we were afraid.

Previous attempts to restore the 2002 cease-fire have failed. Even before yesterday's bombing, it was hard to find many who believe the conflict is likely to end anytime soon.

Rogeram Mohan(ph) is chairman of Trincomalee.'s Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. ROGERAM MOHAN (Chairman, Chamber of Commerce, Trincomalee.'s): We don't see any democracy. We don't exercise any democracy. To us, any man carrying a gun, whether it is the government, whether it is the LTT, we look at them in the same fashion: because they carry a gun because they want to dictate.

REEVES: In this kind of atmosphere he says he finds it hard to be optimistic.

Mr. MOHAN: So I don't see any peace very close. I think there may be a full scale outbreak of war.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.