26th October 1997, page 43
BOMB CLAIM DOUBT
A Melbourne woman may have innocently unearthed shocking evidence the Sri Lankan army was behind a bomb attack this month that injured her and killed 13 people.
The woman - who wishes to be known only as "Susan" - was a witness to the bombing 11 days ago and her account backs claims by Tamil Tiger guerillas that they have again been framed by the government.
"It seemed a set up," she said. "What I saw was quite strange. I believe it was an army operation."
Susan alleges soldiers fired into the sea during the attack, and wandered casually through heavy automatic weapon fire without taking cover or seeming concerned for their safety.
She also saw armed men in floral shirts whom she assumed were the "terrorists" walk to a parked van and slowly drive off amid sounds of heavy firing.
Another tourist hurt in the attack, Englishman Bernard Etkind, said he saw the alleged terrorists running beside a vehicle, firing into the air.
Two other Australians were among the injured.
Susan's allegations come three weeks after a presidential commission admitted two previous assassinations blamed on the Tamil Tigers were in fact the work of then-president Ranasinghe Premadasa.
And they are supported by the army's inability to explain how soldiers allowed the truck carrying the 300 kg bomb into a heavily guarded part of Colombo banned to heavy vehicles.
The Sri Lankan Government immediately blamed the separatist Tamil Tigers for the bombing, and said five of the attackers had been killed or committed suicide.
But a spokesman for the Tamil Tiger Headquarters in London said Susan's allegations added to the group's suspicion that the government had set up the attack to rob the Tigers of international support.
Susan said she was sleeping in a room at the Hilton Hotel when she was woken at 6.50 am by the sound of automatic gunfire.
From her window she overlooked a car park where the bomb eventually went off and to her right was the World Trade Centre which the government later claimed was the Tigers' target.
Susan said she saw two soldiers strolling along an open walkway at the Trade Centre.
They were looking down at an area less than 100 metres away where heavy firing was taking place, but they kept their weapons pointing up, did not take cover and then wandered off.
Susan said she then saw two soldiers with a rocket launcher at the entrance to the hotel's swimming pool car park.
"They fired the rocket launcher straight down the road and into the ocean," she said.
"There was absolutely nothing there. They then threw the launcher away and wandered slowly to the tennis club, absolutely unconcerned with being shot."
Susan said she was still watching from her window 15 minutes after the shooting started.
"That's when the bomb went off and the windows just blew in. If we had been watching from the corner of the room, we wouldn't be here now."
Sri Lanka's Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, said a security "loophole" had allowed the Tamil Tigers to drive the truck into the city centre and the high-security zone around the World Trade Centre.
Hundreds of ethnic Tamils were yesterday rounded up by Sri Lankan police and military conducting an early morning security sweep of Colombo.