Homicide Bomber Attacks Sri Lanka's Top Commander

Sri Lanka's military launched air strikes Tuesday against Tamil Tiger-held areas near a strategic port after a female rebel suicide bomber targeted the country's top military general in Colombo.

The bomber killed eight people and injured 27 others, including Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who was in stable condition at a Colombo hospital, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.

Hours after the attack, the military responded with air strikes and mortars in the guerrilla-held region of Trincomalee, 135 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo.

"There are at least two aircraft dropping bombs into our areas and there is shelling from army camps nearby," rebel official S. Elilan said by telephone from Trincomalee.

A senior government official — speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media — confirmed air strikes were ordered near Tiger bases in Trincomalee after rebels were detected moving toward the strategic port there.

He said the air strikes were called in to deter any rebel attempts to capture the harbor, which serves as a major Sri Lankan military base.

The attack and military retaliation were certain to put further pressure on the country's four-year-old cease-fire, which has been threatened by rising violence that has killed at least 89 people this month, including at least 43 soldiers or police.

"There are still attacks going on," Elilan said. "There is no way we can get out even to check the casualties the situation is so bad. We have not hit back yet but we will be compelled to do so if the attacks go on. We are prepared and awaiting an order from the leadership."

Earlier Tuesday, a lone Tamil Tiger female homocide pretending to be pregnant to conceal the explosives triggered a blast near a car carrying Fonseka, the commander of the army, at military headquarters in Colombo.

The bomber died instantly. It was not clear whether she was included in the figure of eight dead given by Samarasinghe.

President Mahinda Rajapakse offered a defiant stance in a televised address to the nation Tuesday night.

"I can't be scared by any mode of terrorism," Rajapakse said. "Similarly, my government can't be brought to its knees by any kind of challenge."

European cease-fire monitors said the suicide attack "could jeopardize any possibility for future talks" between the government and the rebels.

"This attack is yet another blow to the cease-fire agreement and the peace process," the monitors said in a statement.

Fonseka, a battle-hardened soldier with 35 years in the infantry, was appointed to the top post after President Rajapakse took office in November.

The woman was able to enter the area by presenting fake identification and saying she had an appointment for a pregnancy examination at the army hospital located inside the complex, said other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity citing military regulations.

"I saw a fireball as I came out of my saloon," said S.A. Weerasinghe, who works in the military saloon, which is also inside the sprawling complex.

There was no claim of responsibility. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rarely take credit for such attacks.

Last week, the rebels backed out of peace talks scheduled to start Monday in Geneva, citing attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and other disputes with the government.

The Tamil Tigers are demanding a separate Tamil homeland and accuse the Sinhalese-dominated government of discrimination. A Norwegian-brokered cease-fire halted the war in 2002. More than 65,000 people died before the cease-fire was signed.