Sri Lankan Minister Killed in Bombing

ReutersDassanayake
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A Sri Lankan minister was killed by a roadside bomb planted by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels north of the capital Tuesday, a senior hospital official said, the second lawmaker killed in a week as a protracted civil war escalates.

Nation Building Minister D.M. Dassanayake, whose vehicle was hit by the blast in the town of Ja-Ela, 19 kilometers north of Colombo on the road to the island's only international airport, died on the operating table.

"He died a short while ago," said Lalini Gurusinghe, deputy director of the government teaching hospital in the town of Ragama, where the minister and 10 others wounded in the blast were taken. One of his security detail also later died.

The bombing is the latest in a series of attacks on government officials and the military in recent months. The attack comes just days after the government said it would formally scrap a tattered ceasefire agreement, which had degenerated into renewed civil war in early 2006.

"The assassination of Minister D.M. Dassanayake deserves the most vehement and unequivocal condemnation by all those who respect democracy, desire peace and value human life," Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in an e-mailed statement.

"His assassination should be a further call for unity by all who stand for freedom and democracy to come together, shedding petty political or other differences, to decidedly defeat terrorism in our country," he added. "May he attain the bliss of Nirvana!"

Fighting continued elsewhere on Tuesday. Fighter jets raided a suspected rebel command post in the northwestern district of Mannar, and the military said troops had killed 13 rebels in a series of clashes in the north and northeast.

Tuesday's blast came minutes before Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake announced that the parliament had again extended emergency rule first imposed in late 2005 after the assassination of the island's foreign minister.

Last week, a prominent minority-Tamil lawmaker was shot dead in a Hindu temple in the capital.

The military says it has killed nearly 100 Tiger rebels since advising mediator Norway last week that it was pulling out of the ceasefire pact.

The move shocked the international community and was seen as ruining any hope of resurrecting peace talks to end the 25-year conflict any time soon.

Just minutes before the blast, which took place midway between the capital and the airport, Deputy Tourism Minister Faizal Mustapha impressed on reporters that Sri Lanka was a safe tourist destination.

The government has vowed to wipe out the Tigers militarily, setting the stage for what many fear will be a bloody battle for the north as a death toll of around 70,000 people since the war erupted in 1983 climbs daily.