Air force planes and helicopter gunships bombed Tamil separatist...

April 22, 1987

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Air force planes and helicopter gunships bombed Tamil separatist guerrilla strongholds today, killing 80 rebels in retaliation for a bombing attack in Colombo that killed more than 100 people, the government said.

The Ministry of Defense said the bombings would continue until Tamil separatists end attacks on civilians and agree to peace talks.

A bomb containing more than 100 pounds of explosives devastated the bus terminal at the peak of the rush hour Tuesday, killing at least 106 people and injuring 288, as thousands of workers began heading home.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said at least 80 Tamil separatists were killed and 80 wounded in the raids around Jaffna, the island nation's northernmost town and stronghold of the Tamil separatist movement.

In Colombo, authorities imposed a 9 a.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew that paralyzed the capital of the nation off India's southeastern coast. Only police and a handful of civilians with special passes roamed the deserted streets.

The curfew, imposed to prevent any backlash by the majority ethnic Sinhalese over the bus terminal bombing, could be extended Thursday.

'We are reviewing the situation hour by hour so we cannot say if the curfew will end Thursday,' said government spokesman Tilak Ratnakana.

A curfew also was imposed on Gampahn, 12 miles north of Colombo. Authorities said many of the victims of Tuesday's bombing were from the town.

In Colombo, army units remained in the barracks. Police teams patrolled the streets of the capital, which were to remain under curfew restrictions until Thursday morning.

The Cabinet, after a special meeting today, pledged in a statement that it would 'take all measures' to eliminate terrorism in Sri Lanka.

'We will take all measures to eliminate the terrorist threat throughout the island,' the Cabinet statement said.

It said the bus terminal bombing and two subsequent guerrilla attacks in northern and eastern Sri Lanka indicated the Tamil militants would not accept a peaceful solution to the racial conflict that has torn the country apart since 1983.

Authorities said 17 soldiers and policemen were killed Tuesday night in a mortar attack on a military camp near Kankesanthurai in the northern Jaffna peninsula, the stronghold of the Tamil separatist movement.

A land mine explosion today in northeastern Sri Lanka near the port of Trincomalee killed 15 soldiers, military sources said.

A government spokesman said the army had to be called in today to protect Tamil prisoners at the Colombo jail, where angry Sinhalese inmates tried to extract revenge for the bombing. The Tamil prisoners later were moved to a nearby school for their own protection.

None of the 221 Tamil prisoners were hurt but five Sinhalese inmates were hospitalized, police said.

Tamil guerrilla groups based in Madras had no immediate comment on Sri Lankan charges that they were responsible for the Colombo bombing.

Authorities said the bomb, triggered by a timer or a remote-control device, apparently was planted in a van parked outside a Bank of Ceylon branch office at the terminal.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported a security guard tried to prevent two men from parking the vehicle outside the bank but relented when they promised to return shortly to move it.

Another bomb found outside the Colombo Gas Co. offices, about 5ZXz4 -?v**ds from the terminal, was detbuucyated harmlessly by army bomb disposal experts.

No one claimed responsibility for the bus station bombing but authorities said they suspected Tamil rebels, who seek creation of an independent nation for ethnic Tamils in the northern area of Sri Lanka, an island nation once known as Ceylon.

A number of previous attacks in Sri Lanka have been blamed on Tamil rebels, part of the Hindu minority that makes up about 17 percent of the population.

Many attacks have been against the Sinhalese, who are Buddhists and make up 75 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 15 million people. The conflict has killed about 5,600 people.

Tuesday's blast touched off an intense blaze. Witnesses said several passing motorists were trapped in their cars and burned to death.

Ajith Lalana, 19, a vegetable seller at the Manning Market opposite the bus terminal, was one of the first people to reach the scene and dragged eight bodies from under a car.

'I saw four people burning alive inside a car,' he said.

Authorities sealed off the area around the bus terminal and the government imposed a curfew.

Two air force helicopters equipped with searchlights patrolled surrounding areas Tuesday night in case of a backlash against Tamils.

The Press Trust of India, quoting the Sri Lankan national news agency Lankapuvath, said 'hoods and thugs' attacked and looted shops owned by Tamils. An unconfirmed report said one Tamil was stabbed to death, the Press Trust said.

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