Sri Lanka roadside bomb kills bus driver - police

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COLOMBO, Sep 22 (Reuters) A suspected Tamil Tiger roadside bomb hit a civilian bus in the island's northeast today killing the driver, police said, while the rebels said a third day of air strikes killed an elderly man in their territory.

The violence in the restive north, the focus of renewed civil war between the state and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is the latest in a rash of near daily land and sea battles, ambushes and air strikes in recent months.

''There was a Claymore mine explosion targeting a civilian bus on Nilaveli Road in Trincomalee,'' said Upali Gunasekera, deputy inspector general of police in the Trincomalee district.

''The driver was killed and a few others sustained minor injuries. We suspect it was the LTTE,'' he added.

The Tigers, who have fought for two decades for a separate state in north and east Sri Lanka, said on their official Web site (www.ltteps.org) that the air force bombed their territory early today for third day running, killing an 85-year-old civilian and seriously wounding five others.

An air force spokesman said he had no details of any air strikes on Saturday, but the military often delays announcing the outcome of military operations.

Yesterday, Sri Lankan jets bombed a Tiger military base in the rebel-held far north, triggering multiple explosions, the air force said, while a suspected rebel roadside bomb killed one civilian in the east.

Yesterday's air strike, near the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in the northern district of Mullaittivu, was targeted at top Tiger leaders, and came after a similar raid on Thursday.

There was no independent confirmation of what the jets hit or how many people were killed.

The violence comes on the heels of a new offensive launched by the Sri Lankan military this month to drive the rebels from the northwestern district of Mannar, after pushing them out from jungle terrain they controlled in the east earlier this year.

An estimated 5,000 people have died since early last year in renewed fighting after a peace process collapsed. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the war erupted in 1983.

REUTERS SKB RAI1319

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