January 30, 2008 / 9:45 AM / in 11 years

Rebels blame Sri Lanka army for 17 dead in bus attack

COLOMBO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels blamed troops for a roadside bomb that killed 17 people, most of them children, on a school bus on Tuesday, but a military spokesman denied the accusation.

The Tigers, fighting for an independent state for minority Tamils, said the blast occurred in the northwestern district of Mannar where heavy clashes between soldiers and rebels have been reported since a six-year truce was scrapped on Jan. 16.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a statement on its official website, www.ltteps.org, the dead included a school principal and two teachers, one of them a Catholic nun.

"Seventeen people including eleven children travelling in a school bus were killed and a further 17 children and teachers were injured in a claymore (mine) attack on a bus in Mannar district by the Deep Penetration Unit of the Sri Lanka military," it said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied the allegation.

"Those are fabricated stories. We don’t have any way of getting the details as it is in uncleared area, so the LTTE should take the responsibillity for it," he said.

There were no independent accounts of the clashes.

Analysts say both sides tend to overstate enemy losses and play down their own. The two-decade conflict has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

The majority-Sinhalese government has vowed to wipe out the Tigers militarily. Earlier this month it scrapped the ceasefire, saying the Tigers had used it to regroup and rearm.

Nordic truce monitors, asked to leave Sri Lanka by the government, say both sides repeatedly violated the ceasefire. (Reporting By Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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