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63 die in Sri Lankan explosions

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Two bombs ripped through separate cars of a commuter train Wednesday, blowing briefcases and bodies onto the tracks. The rush-hour bombing killed at least 63 people and wounded more than 350 others. The attack was blamed on Tamil separatist rebels.

It was the worst terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan capital since a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber devastated Colombo's commercial district in January, killing 88 people.

The bombings occurred as 2,000 Sri Lankan army reinforcements reached a major military base in the northeast, where the government had just suffered one of its worst defeats in 13 years of civil war.

Of the 1,200 soldiers who had been manning the base when rebels seized it last week, the reinforcements found only 11 survivors hiding in a well, military officials said.

Attacks on both military and civilian targets in one week showed the Tigers are not backing down, despite several months of government victories that had given some Sri Lankans hope the war was ending.

The two bombs exploded simultaneously in separate cars of the train, which was pulling out of a station in Dehiwala, a middle-class suburb just south of Colombo on the Indian Ocean coast. Police said the bombs were concealed in parcels.

Rescuers making their way through the blasted-out cars found bodies lying among shoes, briefcases and handbags. Hundreds of people were taken to hospitals.

Nimal Perera, a fisherman who lives in a nearby hut, said many of the injured were taken away in cars and buses before ambulances could arrive.

The seaside station also suffered heavy damage, and dozens of people standing on the platform were injured. The train was heading for Alutgama, about 30 miles away, when the bombs exploded at 6:15 p.m.

"I was walking to the exit when I heard two explosions behind me. When I turned around, the whole station was filled with smoke. People were screaming and running," said Lakshman Sooriyawardene, 23, an office worker who had just gotten off the train.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, but police blamed the Tamils, who this week marked the 13th anniversary of their campaign for an independent homeland in this predominantly Sinhalese nation.

"This is obviously the work of the Tamil Tigers," said D. M. Tennakoon, one of the first police officers to reach the scene. The bombs "are similar to others they have exploded."

More than 43,000 people have been killed in the civil war since 1983. Tamils accuse the Sinhalese majority of discrimination in education and jobs.

In the embattled north, 2,000 army reinforcements reached the Mullaittivu base after marching three miles from a beachhead. Warplanes, helicopters and naval gunships supported the soldiers.

Some 1,200 soldiers had been stationed at the base when the rebel attack began, and the military said a large number of decomposing bodies were found among the ruined buildings. On Sunday, Tamils said they cremated 486 bodies and handed 55 to the International Red Cross.

The 11 soldiers found alive had been hiding in the well for days and climbed out when the assault force arrived, military officials said.

Nineteen soldiers reportedly fled earlier. Others may still be hiding in the jungle around the isolated coastal base.