23 civilians killed, 67 wounded in Lanka's bus blast

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Colombo, Jan 16 (UNI) At least 23 civilians were killed and 67 wounded when a powerful bomb went off inside a civilian passenger bus in Sri Lanka's Monaragala district this morning, defence sources here said.

The blast took place at Helagama in Buttala DS division of the district, Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said.

Defence Ministry said that ''LTTE terrorists have exploded a bomb at Buttala targeting a public transport bus that was plying from Buttala to Okkampitiya this morning, claiming that the bus was traveling with a large number of school children at the time of the incident.'' Quoting police sources in the area, the Defence Ministry said that the bomb had been placed inside the bus.

The injured were rushed to Buttala and Monaragala national hospitals, a top government official said.

The explosion coincides with the official termination of the February 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

A number of members of the international community have already expressed serious concern over the government's decision to unilaterally abrogate the truce deal with the rebels.

It was only yesterday that the visiting Japanese special peace envoy Yasushi Akashi expressed fears that such decision may lead to an increased level of violence and greater civilian casualties.

Urging strongly the ruling coalition led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to find a political solution to bloody ethnic conflict through negotiations, Mr Akashi said that that termination of truce deal with the LTTE may prompt the pursuit of a military solution of the conflict with dire humanitarian consequences.

UNI XC SZ DB1055

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