Thursday, June 8, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Lankan minister among 22 killed

COLOMBO, June 7 (PTI, UNI) — Sri Lanka’s Minister for Industrial Development C.V. Goonaratne and 21 others were killed today in an LTTE suicide bomb attack in an industrial suburb of the capital during a rally to collect funds for the welfare of soldiers.

Over 60 persons, including the minister’s wife, Shyama, were injured in the blast, suspected to have been triggered by a woman suicide bomber. Shyama and 14 others were said to be in a serious condition. All injured were being treated in various hospitals.

Police sources said the suspected woman suicide bomber waiting on the side walks pounced on 62-year-old Goonaratne and exploded herself near Ratmalana military airbase while he was participating in a War Heroes Day Rally, organised by the government in memory of the soldiers killed during the 17-year-old ethnic conflict with the LTTE.

Goonaratne is the first minister of the current government to be assassinated.

A severed head and limbs of the bomber were scattered at the scene, witnesses said.

Deputy Mayor of Mount Lavinia Municipal Council Anura Silva was among the killed in the attack that took place hours after the President, Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga, in an emotional address to the nation on the occasion of War Heroes Day expressed her desire to finish the war with LTTE at the earliest.

“We want to finish the war soon as the country has spent a lot of money and continues to spend more,” she said, accusing the LTTE of not being interested in peace or democracy and indulging in killing of thousands of people.

A close confidant of Ms Kumaratunga, Mr Goonaratne attended the main ceremony of the Heroe’s Day held at the Galle Face Green in Colombo this morning in which the President herself took part. He later went to the rally to raise funds for the welfare of the soldiers and the families.

Son of a well-known academician, L.V. Goonaratne, the assassinated leader served as a management consultant before he was elected as Mayor of Mount Lavinia near Ratmalana. He was first elected to Parliament in 1989 and later in 1994.

Security officials expressed surprise over Goonaratne’s decision to take part in the public rally, where he virtually made himself a sitting duck for the suicide bomber.

The minister had not taken any precautions despite a spate of intelligence tip-offs about a dozen LTTE suicide bombers stalking Colombo city planning to target senior Cabinet ministers, the officials said.

Police officials later said not only Goonaratne but few other ministers and top army and police officials had taken part in the rallies organised in various locations of the city.

Earlier, Sri Lankans today honoured its war heroes as thousands of people joined the President in remembering members of the armed forces and police who sacrificed their lives fighting against terrorism.

War Heroes Day, marked for the first time in Sri Lanka’s long ethnic conflict, aimed to honour those killed in the battles against the LTTE and boost the morale of soldiers facing rebel attacks in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The national flag was flown at half mast and a two-minute silence observed at 9.30 a.m. as a tribute to the slain heroes.

The President addressed the nation in a live telecast on state-run Rupavahini television. Ms Kumaratunga accepted donations to the national defence fund made by MPs, organisations and institutions.

The government had declared June 7 as the day of war heroes.

Ms Kumaratunga expressed deep gratitude to those families who have given up their children in the services of the country to defend its unity and integrity.

Ms Kumaratunga said that she was ready for talks with the LTTE if it was prepared to eschew violence and discuss the devolution proposals.

The government had already discussed the devolution proposals with all constituents of the ruling peoples’ alliance (PA) and Tamil parties. She hoped the main opposition United National Party (UNP) would extend its full cooperation to the proposals, aimed at solving the ethnic problem of the country.

Meanwhile, four Tamil youth were arrested in connection with today’s suicide bomb attack in Colombo in which a senior Minister and 21 others were killed, official sources said.

The four men, along with a van suspected to have been used by the suicide bomber, were picked up from the vicinity of the blast shortly after the suicide bombing blamed on the LTTE, the sources said.

A night curfew has been imposed in the area.

However, the identity of the suicide bomber is yet to be established, they said.

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