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Sri Lankan jets destroy rebel hideout, capture ground after cease-fire ends
Sri Lanka Civil War 5122749
A Sri Lankan soldier secures a road as an ethnic Tamil woman passes by in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s military said air force jets destroyed a hideout used by senior Tamil Tiger rebels Thursday and soldiers captured a strategic stretch of road in a battle that left nine insurgents dead.
    The offensives came a day after suspected insurgents killed 27 people in an attack on a civilian bus, an assault that coincided with the government formally ending a cease-fire that had been largely ignored in recent years.
    Air force jets bombed a rebel hideout near Kilinochchi, the insurgents’ de facto capital, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
    He said top rebel officials used the compound, but did not know who was there at the time of the attack. The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site said the jets had struck a civilian area and seven people had been wounded.
    However, Nanayakkara said the military had no reason to target a civilian settlement.
    ‘‘It was definitely an LTTE leaders’ camp. They won’t let civilians settle in that area,’’ he said, referring to the rebels by the initials of their formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
    The military also said it captured a strategic stretch of road in northern Mannar district Wednesday after a battle that killed nine rebels. Commandoes then advanced into rebel territory in Mannar and destroyed a bunker, killing four female rebels, Nanayakkara said.
    Nanayakkara said nine other rebels were killed during a clash elsewhere in Mannar on Wednesday.
    Defense officials reported the deaths of seven rebels in several clashes across the north Wednesday. A lone rebel Thursday exchanged gunfire with soldiers in northern Jaffna before committing suicide to avoid being captured, Nanayakkara said.
    Rebel officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the clashes.
    The violence came a day after a 45-pound roadside bomb destroyed a passenger bus as it traveled through the town of Buttala, about 150 miles southeast of Colombo. Gunmen then shot the panicked passengers as they tried to flee, witnesses said.
    Twenty-seven people were killed — most of them from gunshots — and another 61 people were injured, Nanayakkara said. The assailants then retreated into the bush, shooting and killing six farmers along the way, he said.
    The U.S. Embassy condemned the bomb blast, saying ‘‘it bears all the hallmarks’’ of the rebels.
    President Mahinda Rajapaksa said although the attack on the bus was timed to coincide with the government’s official withdrawal from the cease-fire, it simply mirrored other attacks by the separatist group in recent months.
    Soon after the attack, a second roadside bomb struck an armored military vehicle in the same region, injuring three soldiers, Nanayakkara said.
    Soldiers confronted a group of rebels in the jungles Thursday near the site of the bus bomb and one soldier was wounded in the clash, Nanayakkara said.
    The European Union on Thursday condemned the attack on civilians and reiterated ‘‘strong concerns’’ on the government’s decision to abrogate the cease-fire.
    ‘‘This deadly spiral of violence has to stop immediately, and I once again urge all parties to comply with their obligations under international law to protect civilians,’’ EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.
    The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority in the north and east after decades of being marginalized by Sinhalese-dominated governments. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people.

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