COLOMBO, Dec 27 (AFP): Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels killed 10 soldiers and wounded eight Tuesday when they set off a powerful landmine in northern Sri Lanka, a military official said.
The soldiers were ambushed with a Claymore mine at Puloly in the Jaffna peninsula, where 18 soldiers were killed in two similar attacks earlier this month, the official said by telephone.
"The soldiers were in a convoy transporting lunch for their colleagues when they were hit," the official said.
Four days ago, the Tigers were accused of another ambush in the northwest of the island that killed at least 15 sailors and wounded an equal number.
The escalation of violence compounded fears that the country could be slipping back to war, and prices on the tiny Colombo Stock Exchange fell by a hefty 6.83 per cent Tuesday, the first trading day after the Christmas holidays.
The benchmark All Share Price Index shed 138.82 points to close at 1,894.49, as brokers said investors were jittery about possible continued violence.
The latest killings came as Sri Lanka's troubled northeast was gripped by a work stoppage to protest the Christmas Day assassination of a Tamil legislator.
Shops and offices were shut as a mark of respect for MP Joseph Pararajasingham, 71, who was gunned down just after he received Holy Communion at a Catholic church in the eastern town of Batticaloa, residents said.
A group known as the Pongu Thamil Association had issued leaflets in the troubled regions asking residents to observe a token strike Tuesday to protest the assassination, local officials said.
The officials said the group was widely believed to be a front for the Tigers.
Residents had put up black flags as a sign of protest against the killing, which the rebels blame on the military and the government blames on the Tigers themselves.
The Tamil Tigers were planning to take the legislator's coffin to the rebel-held north of the island and return to his home in the district of Batticaloa for a burial Thursday, local military officials said.
Pararajasingham documented human rights violations in eastern Sri Lanka during the 1990s and brought them to the attention of the international community, the private North East Secretariat On Human Rights (NESOHR) said.
"He persistently challenged the Sri Lankan government on its human rights record," NESOHR said in a statement.
Since his assassination, 16 people have been killed in separate clashes in the island's embattled regions. A total of 80 people have died in violence linked to the conflict this month alone.