Cablegate: Sri Lanka Sitrep: Ltte Truck Bomb Kills Over 60
DE RUEHLM #1705 2891301
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 161301Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4490
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RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 4799
UNCLAS COLOMBO 001705
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TAGS: PREL PTER PHUM PREF MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA SITREP: LTTE TRUCK BOMB KILLS OVER 60
REF: COLOMBO 1692 AND PREVIOUS
1. (U) A Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) truck bomb
exploded outside of the north-central town of Habarana on
October 16, targeting a Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) convoy
transporting over 150 sailors from Trincomalee. Radio news
reported as many as 67 died and 150 sailors were injured when
the bomb engulfed five buses. Later, a high ranking
Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) military source told us he
thought the death toll would reach 95.
2. (SBU) Habarana is 87 kilometers from Trincomalee, well
into predominantly Sinhalese territory. A police source told
RSO that military convoys regularly stop at restaurants in
the area after passing through the LTTE-infiltrated eastern
province, where they are more mindful of their security.
According to our military source, the truck drove into a
marshaling yard where sailors gather to get on transport.
The attack caught most of the victims lining up to catch
their buses. Samarasinghe told independent radio news that
90 sailors had been trapped inside the burning buses, and
that civilians may have been among the victims.
3. (U) Some commentators believe the LTTE may have
anticipated the October 16 Sri Lankan Supreme Court verdict
(septel) declaring the 1988 merger of the northern and
eastern provinces null and void -- effectively separating
the LTTE's desired homeland into two provinces.
4. (U) It is also possible that the LTTE exploded the truck
bomb in retaliation for the SLN sinking of a "Sea Tiger"
supply ship on Sunday, October 15. The Sri Lankan Navy
reported destroying an LTTE trawler loaded with arms off the
northwestern coast of Mannar, 136 miles north of Colombo,
after the boat's occupants returned warning fire. A military
official told the Associated Press: "Considering the
explosion that occurred on the trawler, we believe that it
was transporting a large quantity of explosives and arms."
5. (U) Deputy military spokesman Major Upali Rajapaksa
confirmed to pol FSN that a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) kfir
jet crashed into the Negombo Bay north of Colombo shortly
after take off late afternoon October 16. The pilot
successfully ejected before the aircraft went down. Major
Rajapaksa said there was no indication of an attack on the
5. (SBU) COMMENT: The Tigers have not employed a truck bomb
since 1996, when they attacked the Central Bank in Colombo.
Should the death toll reach 95 as our source predicts, this
attack will mark the single most lethal LTTE attack since the
2002 ceasefire. Observers are inceasingly concerned about
the prospects for holding peace talks on October 28-29 in
Geneva as planned. The demerger decision and the truck bomb
provide both parties with a justification, if they are
looking for one, to pull out of talks.