U.S., Italian Ambassadors to Sri Lanka 'Slightly Injured' in Mortar Attack

The U.S. and Italian ambassadors to Sri Lanka were "slightly injured" when their helicopters were targeted by mortars fired by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels in the east on Tuesday, officials said.

The helicopters used by U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake and his Italian counterpart Prio Mariani had just landed in Batticaloa when several mortars landed close to the aircraft, said Sri Lankan government minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who accompanied them.

"Both the ambassadors are fine and they have suffered slight injuries," Samarasinghe said.

Mariani needed medical care and was taken to the area's main hospital for treatment. The nature of his injury was not immediately known, but Samarasinghe said they were "slight."

The Sri Lankan Defense Ministry blamed the attack on separatist Tamil Tiger rebels — who are banned in the United States and in European Union countries as a terrorist group.

There was no immediate comment available from the rebels who did not responded to phone calls.

The two ambassadors accompanied by their staff and Sri Lankan officials had traveled Tuesday morning to Batticaloa aboard two helicopters to attend a meeting about the development of the area, a hotbed of separatist violence.

"As their choppers landed mortars were fired by the Tigers," said Lt. Col. Upali Rajapakse, a senior officer the Defense Ministry's information section.

He said the diplomats had already got out of the helicopters when the mortars were fired. It was not immediately known how they sustained their injuries.

Seven Sri Lankan security personnel who were on the ground were also wounded, Rajapakse said.