COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A roadside bombing blamed on the Tamil Tigers killed a Sri Lankan government minister Tuesday in an attack likely to intensify the civil war already raging across this Indian Ocean island nation.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa condemned the assassination as proof of the rebel group's "continued commitment to terror and violence," and hinted the government would strike back.
"This sad event is a further reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to rid our country of terrorism and the use of violence to achieve political ends," he said in a statement.
Both sides in the fight routinely target the other's leaders. A government airstrike in November killed the rebels' political leader, S.P Tamilselvan, and an attack Sunday killed a top rebel intelligence officer, Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, also known as Col. Charles.
The rebels have tried repeatedly to kill senior government and military officials, though the attack Tuesday morning was their first successful assassination in 19 months.
The bomb tore through the car carrying Nation Building Minister D.M. Dassanayake as he traveled through the Ja-Ela area, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital, Colombo, said military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.
Dassanayake, who was not a member of the Cabinet, suffered head injuries and wounds all over his body and was rushed into surgery before he died, said Dr. Dharmawardena Guruge, a physician at Ragama Teaching Hospital, where the minister was taken.
The blast, which came days after the government officially pulled out of a tattered cease-fire with the separatist rebels, killed a second man and wounded 10 others, officials said. A security guard and a driver were also in the car, but it was not clear if either was killed or wounded.
"We are quite sure that it was done by the terrorists," Media Minister Anura Yapa said, referring to the Tamil Tigers. Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls seeking comment.
Dassanayake had been assigned to help coordinate efforts to rebuild Sri Lanka's Eastern Province after government forces drove the rebels from the area in July. Rajapaksa suggested Dassanayake was killed because his work in the east angered the rebels.
The rebels have been blamed for a spate of assassination attempts.
In November, a suicide bomber killed an aide to Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda in a failed attack on the minister. Bombing attacks in 2006 also failed to kill Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother.
The last successful assassination took place in June 2006, when the rebels killed Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, the country's third-ranking military officer.
The rebels have also been blamed for a spate of attacks in Colombo, including a bomb attack last week on a bus transporting wounded soldiers through the heart of the capital that killed a soldier and three bystanders.
Soon after that attack, Sri Lanka's Cabinet decided to officially withdraw from a 2002 truce that had all but collapsed over the past two years as escalating violence killed about 5,000 people. Senior government officials have vowed to dismantle the rebels' de facto state in parts of the north and to crush the Tamil Tigers.
Fighting continued along the front lines in the north Tuesday, with troops killing 10 rebels in two separate clashes in the Vavuniya district, said a Defense Ministry statement. There was no immediate comment from the rebels. Each side routinely exaggerates the other's casualties and plays down its own.
Fighting in the north has killed 98 people — 94 rebels and four soldiers — in the five days since the government pulled out of the truce, according to the military.
The EU has expressed regret at Sri Lanka's decision to leave the cease-fire, saying it would "further deteriorate the country's already difficult situation, including the humanitarian and human rights situation."
More than 70,000 people have been killed since the rebels began fighting in 1983 for an independent state for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority, claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.