Air attacks were carried out on Wednesday morning in the northeastern district of Trincomalee where the military bombed a cluster of boats belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Tuesday night, a police official in the area said.

Tuesday's suicide bombing and the subsequent clashes between government and rebel forces have worsened fears that Sri Lanka is sliding irreversibly back into civil war.

"The attacks resumed this morning after a break overnight," a police official in Trincomalee said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Wednesday morning's air strikes came after Sri Lankan naval vessels in the northeast came under rebel attack, a military spokesman said.

"Our navy units have come under terrorist attack this morning and we have retaliated," said Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe.

The Sri Lankan air force began strikes on rebel positions on Tuesday, hours after the suspected LTTE suicide bomber struck at army headquarters in the capital, Colombo.

Ulf Henricsson, the head of the Scandinavian Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, said his organisation had confirmation of Tuesday's air strikes against rebel positions.
  

"We don't know what they're bombing. It is probably a limited operation, striking planned targets," Henricsson told the Swedish news agency TT. 

Shelling

A rebel official also confirmed the air strikes in the region, 200km northeast of Colombo.

"There are at least two aircraft dropping bombs into our areas and there is shelling from army camps nearby," S Elilan said by telephone.

A pro-rebel website, TamilNet, quoted Elilan as saying that he had asked the island's European ceasefire monitoring group "to clarify whether the Sri Lanka army has launched a full-scale war."

Tuesday's attack left army chief 
Fonseka critically wounded

At least eight people were killed and the head of the Sri Lankan army critically wounded in Tuesday's suicide bomb attacks on the army's headquarters in Colombo.

The bomber blew herself up as a car carrying the army chief, Lieutenant-General Sareth Fonseka, arrived at the base.

 

At least 27 people were wounded in the blast, including Fonseka.

 

The military blamed the attack on the Tamil Tigers rebel group, saying the bomber had pretended to be pregnant to conceal her explosives.

 

The victims included civilians visiting the army complex to see relatives.

 

Ethnic tension

 

Fonseka, a high-profile military commander with 35 years experience in the infantry, was appointed to the top post after the president, Mahinda Rajapakse, took office in November.

 

He has taken a hard line against the Tamil Tigers.

 

The Tigers, who are observing a shaky ceasefire with the government since 2002, have been blamed for suicide attacks in the past.


The blast came during a visit to Sri Lanka by Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer, who hopes to restart peace negotiations between the two sides.

 

Earlier on Tuesday, the Tigers had called on Hanssen-Bauer to pressure the government to accept its terms for peace talks.