Sri Lankan Warplanes Pound Rebel Tamil Tiger Bases

Sri Lankan warplanes pounded two suspected Tamil Tiger sea bases and a military camp in the north on Tuesday, the military said, a day after a rebel suicide bomber attacked a military convoy, killing at least 95 sailors.

The military said more than 150 people were wounded when a bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into a convoy of buses near the town of Dambulla, about 90 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo, on Monday.

The bombing -- condemned by the United States -- was one of the deadliest insurgent attacks since a 2002 cease-fire temporarily halted the country's civil war, and cast doubt on peace talks slated for later this month.

Air force jets on Tuesday hit Tiger sea bases in Mullaittivu and a military camp run by the rebels in Mankulam, the Media Centre for National Security said.

"It is believed that the airstrikes inflicted heavy damages to (the) terrorists," it said.

The bombings follow separate military airstrikes in northeastern Sri Lanka Monday night, which the rebels said hit civilian targets and killed two girls, aged 1 and 12, and wounded 15 others. They said the bombing also destroyed a transmission tower of the Voice of Tigers radio station, which broadcasts pro-rebel news and patriotic Tamil music.

CountryWatch: Sri Lanka

Military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said the air force bombed rebel territory late Monday after the insurgents had launched artillery fire into a military camp.

"This was not in response to the suicide bomb, we responded to the artillery attack," Samarasinghe said Tuesday.

Monday's suicide bombing attacked a convoy of military buses transporting sailors who were going on leave from the port town of Trincomalee. The military said they were unarmed.

The U.S. condemned the attack and said it bore the hallmarks of the separatist Tamil Tigers, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on both sides to end the violence and show a renewed commitment to peace talks.

Despite the attack, the Sri Lankan government on Monday reiterated that it remained committed to the talks.

"The government has always said and maintained that it will negotiate with the Tigers because its objective is to reach a negotiated peace," Palitha Kohona, the chief of the government's peace secretariat, told The Associated Press.

"It will be a challenge but we will do our very best."

President Mahinda Rajapakse's office said in a statement that the attack "was further proof of the (Tiger)'s unmitigated commitment to violence to achieve its ends and was in total disregard of international demands for it to abandon violence and seek peaceful means to achieve its goals."

The attack came shortly after a Japanese envoy held talks with the president amid intensified diplomatic efforts to strengthen the peace process between the government and rebels ahead of scheduled talks later this month in Switzerland.

It was not immediately clear what impact the attack would have on those talks. There was no immediate comment from the rebels on the attack, although they routinely deny involvement.

The envoy, Yasushi Akashi, also planned to travel to the rebel stronghold in the north to talk with the Tiger leadership during his five days in Sri Lanka. A Japanese Embassy spokesman said he had no information yet on whether those plans would change following the attack.

Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer arrived in Colombo on Tuesday for talks with government officials and Tamil Tiger leaders, while U.S. envoy Richard Boucher will make a two-day visit to Sri Lanka starting Thursday.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the attack as "appalling" and urged a return to peace talks, according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric in New York.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the suicide bombing and said she was concerned at the spiraling violence in Sri Lanka that has killed at least 2,000 people this year and sent over 200,000 fleeing from their homes, according to humanitarian agencies.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also condemned the attack, which he called a "deplorable act of terrorism." Downer also blamed the LTTE for the attack, and urged both sides to return to the negotiating table.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. About 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 cease-fire.