SRI LANKAN police were questioning 27 suspected Tamil rebels yesterday after two bombs killed at least 78 commuters on a packed train on Wednesday but Tamil Tiger guerrillas denied responsibility for the blasts.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels said government troops were massing for a major offensive against guerrilla bases close to an army camp that was the scene of fierce fighting during the past week.
The 27 Tamil suspects were picked up from several areas of Colombo following the blasts, which also wounded at least 450 people. "We are looking at the suspects, where they live and who their friends are," police said.
The LTTE said in a statement faxed to an international news agency from London that the government was trying to whip up anti Tamil emotions by blaming the guerrillas. The LTTE is fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east.
"Even though the accusing finger is pointed by the government at the LTTE, there are interested parties within the Sinhala ruling establishment who feel the need to raise chauvinistic hysteria in order to facilitate the military option," the LTTE statement said. "We also wish to reiterate that it is not the policy of the LTTE to attack civilian targets."
In the same statement, the Tigers estimated that 2,000 army troops had massed on a beachhead 2 km from the garrison at Mullaitivu, 280 km north east of Colombo.
Troops recaptured the base on Wednesday after the camp was overrun by the LTTE last Thursday. Both sides say hundreds died in the week long battle, one of the fiercest in Sri Lanka's 13 year ethnic war.