Military retaliates after suicide bomb kills minister
by Melani Manel Perera
Air force attacks Tamil rebel base. A bomb at the start of a marathon run near Colombo kills Highways and Road Development Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a Catholic, and former Olympian Karunatane. Altogether 15 are dead.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s air force bombed a base of the Black Tigers, a special unit of suicide operatives of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The attack in the Mankulam area is the government’s response to the suicide bombing that yesterday killed the Minister of Highways and Road Development Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.

The blast struck a ceremony inaugurating a marathon near Colombo killing about 15 people, including former Olympian Karunatane and track and field coach Lakshman De Alwis. About 80 were wounded, some very seriously.

With hundreds of runners and spectators gathered near the start line and the minister approaching it to signal the beginning of the race, the bomb went off. According to the defence minister the suicide bomber was dressed as a runner.

Fernandopulle, 55, is the second minister to be killed since the start of the year. He entered politics in 1970 as a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Elected to parliament the first time in 1984, he has been minister several times, always critical of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

A Catholic Fernandopulle met with John Paul II and last year he was a member of the delegation that accompanied President Mahinda Rajapakse in a visit to Benedict XVI.

Today his coffin was taken from his home to parliament and from there it travelled in the afternoon to his home town of Katana. A state funeral is scheduled for Thursday.

Colombo’s Anglican Bishop, Rev Duleep De Chickera, condemned the attack and extended his condolences to the family.

“Such provocative acts of violence [. . .] further reduce whatever chances may have existed for peace,” he said. “May all peace loving people [. . .] speak with one voice and strive together to replace violent confrontation with dialogue.”

In the first months of 2008 alone Sri Lanka’s civil war has caused more than 2,500 dead; about 75,000 since it started in 1983.

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