COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A land mine destroyed a troop truck in northern Sri Lanka Tuesday, killing 10 soldiers in escalating violence that threatens island nation's shaky cease-fire. The military blamed separatist rebels in the attack.
The soldiers had just gone on leave and were heading to an airport when the blast occurred outside Jaffna, about 185 miles north of the capital of Colombo, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.
"We now have confirmation that 10 have died and four are wounded," he said, blaming the Tamil Tiger rebels.
"Who else can do that?" he said of the rebels, who want to set up a separate homeland for the country's 3.2 million ethnic Tamils in the northeast.
Both the government and rebels agreed to a truce in 2002, but violence has escalated in Sri Lanka's north and east since rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran last month threatened to resume his struggle for an independent homeland for the region's majority Tamils.
With Tuesday's fatalities, a total of 43 Sri Lankan security forces personnel have died this month in violence blamed on the rebels.
Harry Goonetilleke, a retired air marshall and top defense analyst, said the recent string of attacks could lead the country back into civil war.
"They are trying to provoke the military and draw them into open hostility," said Goonetilleke, who is also former head of the Sri Lanka air force.
Though the cease-fire has held, peace talks have stalled due to disagreements over the Tigers' demands for broad autonomy in the northeast.
Efforts to resume the talks have failed.
The Tamil Tigers started fighting in 1983, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The conflict has killed about 65,000 people.
The attack follows Monday's killing by Sri Lankan soldiers of two suspected rebels in eastern Sri Lanka, where a pro-rebel parliamentarian was assassinated on Sunday.