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Tamil Rebels Blow Up Bus, Kill 26

May 1, 1988

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ A bus crowded with shoppers was blown apart Sunday and at least 26 passengers were killed when Tamil rebels detonated explosives buried in the ground, military officials said.

Thirty people were injured, and 15 of them were in critical condition at local hospitals, the officials said. It was the second Tamil attack on a passenger bus in two days.

The blast threw bodies into the dense jungle beside the road near the village of Sittaru, 25 miles southwest of the eastern port of Trincomalee. About 75 passengers were aboard the bus, and officials were searching for more victims.

Most of the victims were Sinhalese, the majority ethnic group on the island, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The dead included two little boys, they said.

On Saturday, Tamil militants ambushed a bus in the northern Vavuniya District, killing five civilians and six Sri Lankan soldiers who were guarding the vehicle.

The predominantly Hindu Tamils, who make up 18 percent of the nation’s 16 million population, claim they are discriminated against by the Buddhist Sinhalese, who are 75 percent of the people and control the government and military.

Militant Tamils have been waging a guerrilla war for an independent homeland since 1983 in the north and east, where most Tamils live.

India, which has a large Tamil population of its own, mediated a peace accord last July aimed at ending the insurgency. But the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the largest rebel group, rejected the pact and resumed warfare.

India has sent more than 50,000 troops to the island to try to put down the Tigers, but they have not stopped the militants’ attacks.

Military officials said victims from Sunday’s attack were airlifted by Sri Lankan air force helicopters to government hospitals in Anuradhapura, east of Trincomalee, which is about 150 miles northeast of Colombo.

The military officials said the death toll could rise when rescue operations resumed Monday. The operations were curtailed at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Army Maj. Jayantha Jayasinghe said soldiers moved to the site to search for the killers.

Update hourly