A land mine blast killed six Sri Lankan soldiers in the northern city of Jaffna on Tuesday, an army spokesman said, blaming the Tamil Tiger rebels for the attack. The deaths in Jaffna, where the rebels operate, coincided with Sri Lanka's new hawkish military commander, Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, taking over the country's armed forces, and could further strain the government's already fragile cease-fire with the insurgents.
The soldiers, one officer and five enlisted men, "had done routine clearing operations of the area and were returning back on a tractor" when the land mine exploded, said army spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanagee.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Witharanagee said the Tigers were behind the blast, caused by a a Claymore mine that spits out hundreds of steel balls propelled by plastic explosives.
The military also blames the Tamil Tigers for attacks that killed seven soldiers on Sunday, the most serious violence since the two sides signed a truce three years ago. Although Tamil Tigers control parts of Sri Lanka's north and east, Jaffna is governed by the Sri Lankan army. The city is 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of the capital, Colombo.
The Tigers began fighting in 1983, claiming discrimination against Sri Lanka's Tamil minority by its Sinhalese majority. Nearly 65,000 people died in the conflict before a cease-fire was signed in 2002. Subsequent peace talks collapsed a year later, reports the AP. I.L.