28 die in Sri Lanka suicide bombing: military

A female suicide bomber in Sri Lanka's embattled northeast blew herself up Monday, killing an estimated 28 people and injuring dozens more, military officials say.

A female suicide bomber in Sri Lanka's embattled northeast blew herself up Monday, killing an estimated 28 people and injuring dozens more, military officials say.

The bomber triggered the blast as security forces searched some 800 civilians travelling from the front lines of the war zone in the north to the relative safety of the south, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The attacker detonated a bomb she was wearing as she was being frisked, he said. Besides killing 28, the blast also injured 24 troops and 40 civilians, he said.

The United Nations condemned the bombing. "We deplore the loss of civilian life in this targeted killing. It's a blow for people who have suffered so much," said U.N. resident co-ordinator Neil Buhne.

The government suspects the attacker was a Tamil rebel. 

The attack reportedly occurred in the northeastern district of Mullaitivu, a rebel stronghold. The account of the attack cannot be independently verified because the government does not permit journalists into the war zone.

Fears of increased guerrilla warfare

It is the first suicide attack in over a month in Sri Lanka, fanning fears that the Tamil Tiger separatists — boxed in by the military and on the verge of defeat — will increasingly turn to guerrilla warfare in their battle against government forces.

The Sri Lankan military had rung up a series of victories in its battles against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in recent weeks. The Tigers found themselves cornered in a small strip of land in the northeast, where the Red Cross estimates 250,000 civilians are also trapped.

The military has accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, while the Tigers have criticized the government for excessive shelling in the war zone, leading to civilian casualties.

"The LTTE is now desperate because they don't have any control over the civilians now," Nanayakkara said. "They wanted to stop these people coming in."

Monday's attack appeared aimed at one of the military's weak points, the processing of the masses of civilians trying to flee the area. It also highlighted concerns that the rebels were trying to blend in with the civilian population, so they can fight on using insurgent tactics.

The military has said the flow of civilians out of the war zone has increased in recent days, with 4,700 fleeing Sunday, bringing the total number of noncombatants to escape the war zone to 20,000 this year, Nanayakkara said.

With most communication to the north severed, the rebels could not be reached for comment. They have been accused of more than 200 suicide attacks and are listed as a terror group by the Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in northern Sri Lanka since 1983. More than 70,000 people are believed to have been killed in the civil war.

With files from the Associated Press