Sri Lankan officials say at least 67 sailors were killed and dozens injured in a suicide bombing by suspected Tamil Tiger separatist militants. The government and the rebels are preparing for peace talks later this month, in an attempt to prevent the violence from spiraling into all-out war.
Officials in Sri Lanka say a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with explosives into a Sri Lankan naval convoy near the central town of Habarana, 190-kilometers northeast of the capital, Colombo.
The area is a transit point for the navy, which rotates personnel in and out of the port city of Trincomalee in the country's northeast.
Officials immediately blamed the attack on the Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who have often used suicide bombs as a tactic in the past.
The rebel leadership has not commented on the bombing.
The government and the rebels are expected to meet for peace talks in Switzerland at the end of the month, in an effort to stop the country from returning to war.
Analyst Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, from the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, says the intensification of hostilities between the two sides before peace talks is a familiar pattern.
"Violence always erupts because both sides are still convinced that it is only through violence that they can better position themselves at the negotiating table. They are consumed with the notion of negotiations from strength."
Peace talks have been organized periodically in the past two years, as a 2002 ceasefire showed signs of unraveling during government and rebel attacks. Most meetings have been aimed at saving the ceasefire, while talks to address the underlying differences between the rebels and the government have been put on the back burner.
The two sides have fought a 20-year civil war, which began in 1983 when the Tamil Tigers demanded independence for areas in the north and east of the country where the ethnic-Tamil minority is predominant.
Later, the rebels said they would be willing to settle for a higher degree of autonomy in those areas. But the two sides never agreed on the scope or mechanics of the Tamil community's self-rule. The U.S. State Department has designated the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.
A diplomatic offensive is underway in Sri Lanka this week, with a top Japanese peace envoy in the country to help pave the way for the talks in Geneva. U.S. Assistant Secretary Of State Richard Boucher is also expected later this week.