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Sri Lanka Tigers celebrate suicide bomber squads

Written by: Staff

COLOMBO, July 5 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels celebrated their suicide bomber squads on the 19th anniversary of their first attack today, but in the capital Colombo troops nervously scanned streets fearing new blasts.

With a 2002 ceasefire increasingly in tatters and more than 700 people dead so far this year, many fear the rebels might unleash more Black Tiger suicide bombers against civilian, military and economic targets.

''Our Black Tigers have stood as pillars of strength and force,'' said the rebel-linked Jaffna University Students Union in a statement. ''Every time they walk into the battlefield...

they scatter like cotton and mingle and join the air for the love and passion for their goal... without considering death.'' The military said a Tiger claymore fragmentation mine attack killed one soldier in the northern town of Vavuniya on Wednesday, but that it was clearly not a Black Tiger attack.

During two decades of civil war for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) say they have used 273 suicide bombers.

The first attack took place on July 5, 1987, when rebel Captain Miller drove a truck packed with explosives into an army camp. The Tigers said they would parade his picture on a motorcade through their northern heartland.

A slickly produced Black Tiger music video tribute released on a pro-rebel Web site showed footage of ethnic Tamils dead and fleeing their homes, Tigers in black fatigues laughing and walking along a beach as well as fighters and frogmen training.

Two suspected Tigers in diving gear took cyanide last month when they were captured landing north of the capital Colombo with what the military said were sea-mines to attack shipping.

''PROUD BUT SAD'' Another sequence showed a small suicide speedboat converging on a warship, followed by rebel fighters on another attack boat punching the air at the sight of a large explosion.

A female Tiger fighter then sits on a beach, writing a letter.

With two suicide blasts in or near the capital this year, killing Sri Lanka's third most senior general and seriously wounding the army commander, and the sinking of three naval patrol boats in suicide explosions, many worry that the wartime bombings could be about to resume.

The LTTE deny carrying out recent blasts. Few believe them.

''Colombo is as dangerous as the north and east now,'' one air force infantryman told Reuters in the majority language Sinhalese, gripping his AK-47 assault rifle at a checkpoint in the capital as his colleagues searched vehicles for explosives.

The rebels said commemorations would be low key, with Black Tiger families lighting candles at a rebel-held school. In some previous years troops of suicide bombers in dark tiger-striped fatigues have openly marched, faces usually obscured with cloth.

Black Tigers have been blamed for a 1996 attack on the central bank that killed more than 100, an assault on Colombo's airport that destroyed half the national airline fleet and blasts that killed one Sri Lankan president and cost another her eye.

They are also blamed for killing former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 after a failed Indian peacekeeping mission.

The Tigers say they began using suicide bombing to compensate for the numerical superiority of the army. But some in the Tamil-dominated north would like to see the killing end.

''Though I am proud of them, I would like to see these suicide attacks stop,'' said student Victor Aseerwaltham, 24.

''The violence against us by the Sinhalese laid the foundation and the need to form the Black Tigers and they have given us inner moral strength. But I feel very sad.'' REUTERS CH HT1522

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