ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 7, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 32

Another brutal bus attack

  • 15 killed, 40 wounded =Govt. vows it won’t be deterred in counter-terror offensives

A second bus bomb in successive days saw at least 15 passengers killed and more than 40 wounded in an explosion inside a bus at Godagama near Hikkaduwa yesterday. However, the government vowed such brutal attacks on civilians would not deter it from counter-terror operations in the north and east.

The explosion barely 24 hours after a similar blast on a bus at Nittambuwa, senior security officials said was clear evidence that Tiger guerillas had started targeting civilians in the south in a bid to divert the military from operations in the north and east.

However, there were conflicting reports on how yesterday’s explosion had occurred. Meetiyagoda’s police inspector G. Gunasena said initial reports indicated that a parcel bomb placed on the hood rack at the rear end of the bus had caused the explosion.

But Southern Province Deputy Inspector General Jayantha Gamage said a woman who had a parcel on her lap was believed to have triggered the explosion. Her charred body was inside the bus till late evening and was removed to the Karapitiya Hospital.

After the explosion the bus virtually went out of control and ran a distance of 20-30 metres before it was brought to a halt by the driver, the DIG said. Hours after the blast, President Mahinda Rajapaksa met service commanders and senior police officers at Temple Trees and discussed the current situation and measures necessary to ensure security to the people.

President Rajapaksa rushed back from Kalutara where he attended a function in Ketharama Kande Viharaya to inaugurate the tallest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. He told the gathering at the temple ceremony that it was the government’s responsibility to protect all the people of this country.

Last evening Meetiyagoda Police were awaiting the arrival of officials from the Government Analyst’s Department to conduct tests which could prove how the explosion occurred inside the private bus plying from Colombo to Matara around 2. 20 p.m.

Among the injured, the condition of ten was said to be serious and they are under intensive care at the Karapitiya and Balapitiya hospitals. The Leyland bus had left Pettah around 11.30a.m and had stopped along the way to pick up and drop passengers. Bus driver Rukmal Mahendra, one of the few who escaped unhurt, said that the bus was suddenly shaken by an explosion and he managed to bring it to a stop as soon as he could.

The conductor who was in front had been moving towards the rear end of the bus to issue tickets when the blast took place, he said. The conductor is believed to be among the injured. Eyewitness Jeevantha Lakmal, who was coming behind the bus on a motorbike, said that as he was trying to overtake the bus, he heard a blast. “There was a ball of fire from inside the bus and two or three persons were thrown out. I was hit by shrapnel and injured,” he said.

A vendor said he heard the blast and saw the bus in a ball of fire. He said he and a few more persons got into the bus and brought the wounded passengers out. “We saw a lot of wounded passengers. Some were dead,” he said.

Nineteen-year-old Mohammed Ashrif, who was among the injured, said he and four of his friends were going home after attending an A/L tuition class in Beruwala when the tragic incident happened. “We were seated in the middle section of the bus and suddenly we heard a loud noise from the rear side. Many people were injured and those who could move struggled to get out”, he said.

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe yesterday blamed the LTTE for both bomb explosions, saying it was apparent that the Tigers were trying to divert the military from their operations in the east and the north. The bodies of the victims were taken to the Balapitiya Hospital, but by last evening only three had been identified.

A large number of civilians also rushed to the scene to help move the victims to hospitals while police diverted traffic on this stretch of the Galle Road. Balapitiya’s Acting Magistrate Samantha Thabrew and Galle’s Judicial Medical Officer Dr. U.R.P Perera visited the scene last evening for inquiries.

As police investigation began, detectives said three suspects had been taken in for questioning. Meanwhile the government in a statement condemned the LTTE attacks as acts of brutality.

The Media Centre for National Security said the government believed that the LTTE was attempting to divert attention from the continuous defeats it had been suffering at the hands of the security forces in the recent past. “At a time when the security forces are successfully carrying out counter-terrorist measures to restore civil administration in the North and East, the LTTE has resorted to terror attacks in the south to disrupt normalcy,” the MCNS said. “The government reiterates that terror attacks will not deter its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the national problem or its measures to defeat terrorism.

“The LTTE's terror attacks will only strengthen the government’s resolve to defeat terrorism and restore normalcy in the North and East,” it said.

Security tightened on buses, trains
In the aftermath of two brutal attacks on private buses, the government yesterday ordered immediate measures for tighter security on buses and trains with all passengers and luggage to be closely checked.

An emergency meeting will be held today between private bus operators, Transport Minister A.H.M. Fowzie and the Police to work out and implement the new security measures.

Minister Fowzie told The Sunday Times that security on state-owned buses and trains had already been enhanced but it was the government’s responsibility to provide adequate security even for private buses.

“We will discuss the crisis measures with the Police and implement them immediately,” he said. Private Bus Operators Association President Gemunu Wijeratne said they would take immediate security measures to safeguard passengers.

“This is a crisis situation and we have sought an urgent meeting with the Transport Minister ,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Government yesterday advised the people not to travel in buses and trains that did not carry out security checks on baggage.

It said the passengers had the right to insist that the bus crews conduct security checks on all before boarding buses.

In a statement, the Media Centre for National Security said the government had told the Transport Board, all bus terminals and railway authorities to check luggage and other parcels of passengers before boarding.


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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.