COLOMBO (AFP) — A Sri Lankan government minister was killed Tuesday in a powerful roadside bomb attack by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels, followed hours later by a powerful blast in the heart of the capital Colombo, police said.
D. M. Dassanayake, the 51-year-old minister for nation building, suffered severe head injuries and died while undergoing surgery, said doctor Lalini Gunasekera at the Ragama hospital here.
He was killed near the island's capital and international airport, officials said.
In a separate later incident, the bomb which went off at the Regent Flats complex in Colombo Fort did not cause casualties, police said.
Police said they were probing if the Tuesday night bomb had been aimed at a military commander travelling in the area. Senior officers frequently use the road by the Regent Flats, which are opposite the Colombo Hilton.
The Tuesday night blast rocked the city as it emptied of workers. Local news channels were running footage of the morning assassination when they interrupted to bring news of the second blast.
Earlier, President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the assassination of the minister and vowed to step up efforts to fight terrorism.
"This sad event is a further reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to rid our country of terrorism and the use of violence to achieve political ends," the president said in a statement.
"His assassination in a Claymore mine attack by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is yet another example of its continued commitment to terror and violence to achieve its separatist goals," the president added.
The defence ministry said the minister's personal bodyguard was also killed and 10 others were wounded in the attack.
Fighting has also been escalating in the north of the island since the government announced it was pulling out of a truce with the Tigers.
Police said the Tuesday morning mine -- a device packed with explosives and ball bearings -- was detonated as the minister's convoy passed the town of Ja-Ela.
Dassanayake was notorious for his alleged underworld links and once attended parliament in handcuffs, having been allowed out of a remand prison to take part in a key debate.
Sri Lankan police and security forces have been on high alert for Tamil Tiger attacks following the government's announcement that it was pulling out of a tattered ceasefire agreement from January 16.
The bombings came as the air force carried out another raid inside territory controlled by the LTTE.
The military said that security forces had killed at least 15 rebels in clashes since Monday, bringing to around 130 the number of rebels said to have been killed since the start of the month.
Independent verification of casualty figures is impossible as journalists are not allowed into rebel-held areas. Both sides are known to make sharply varying casualty claims.
On Sunday, security forces also conducted a major search operation in the entire Western province which covers the capital and airport area -- questioning tens of thousands of people and arresting nearly 200.
The killing of the minister came less than a week after a similar roadside bomb in Colombo targeted a military bus, killing five people. The authorities blamed the LTTE for that attack.
The Tigers are yet to formally respond to the government's decision to pull out of the truce. The government believes it has the upper hand over the rebels and is in a position to capture the north.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the 35-year-old conflict, one of Asia's longest-running wars.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »