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Sri Lankan Military Strikes Against Tamil Rebels

Sri Lanka's military has launched fresh strikes on Tamil Tiger rebel areas in the country's north, a day after the rebels were blamed for a deadly suicide bombing. European truce monitors are warning the escalating violence is a threat to the ceasefire that halted a bloody ethnic conflict in the country four years ago.

A military spokesman in Colombo said warplanes fired at rebel bases after the Tamil Tigers attacked naval patrol craft in the eastern port town of Trincomalee.

It was the second straight day that the military attacked the rebels in the northeast. On Tuesday, hours after a suicide bombing blamed on the rebels critically wounded the country's army commander, the military attacked rebel bases with air force planes and mortars.

A government spokesman warned of "coordinated retaliation by the armed forces" if the rebels continue to attack.

The strikes are the first official military action since a 2002 cease-fire halted years of fighting, and are widely seen as retaliation for the suicide attack.

The rebels say the military attacks have killed at least 12 civilians. The military said at least three civilians were killed in overnight by rebel mortar attacks.

The spokeswoman for the European team monitoring the truce, Helen Olafsdottir, says the 2002 cease-fire is near the breaking point.

"They are on the brink, and if they do not stop this violence immediately now, then we could see this country plunging back to war," she said. "There is no doubt about it."

In a televised address to the nation late Tuesday, President Mahinda Rajapakse said he did not want to return to war, but would not be cowed by bomb attacks. He said the government's desire for peace should not be mistaken for weakness.

The spokeswoman for the European team says both sides appear to be "squaring things up" after a bout of violence that has seen nearly 100 people, including soldiers and Tamil civilians, killed in the last two weeks. She says the future of the battered truce hinges on a lowering of tensions.

"Will they calm down and realize that you cannot square things off in such a way, or are we going to see further escalation in violence?" Olafsdottir asked.

The cease-fire was reached in 2002, but the peace process has been virtually deadlocked for the past three years due to a series of disputes between the two sides. The rebels want an autonomous homeland in the northeast for the country's minority Tamil community, but some in Mr. Rajapakse's coalition say the Tamils have been given too many concessions already.