CLOMBO, April 17, (Reuter): The Sri Lankan government called off its unilateral ceasefire today to enable troops to hunt guerrillas who killed 126 people and wounded 60 in a bus ambush.

Rebels stopped three buses and two lorries near the eastern port of Trincomalee and sprayed bullets at the passengers, most of whom were majority Sinhalese.

Government spokesman Tilak Ratnakara said the 10day ceasefire would end immediately. A 34hour curfew had been clamped on Trincomalee, he told Reuters.

“The (ending of the) ceasefire and the curfew will enable security forces to hunt down the killers,” he said.

The ambush was the worst attack on civilians since rebels fired machineguns at Buddhist pilgrims in Anuradhapura in May, 1985, killing 145 people.

Ratnakara said the attack was the fifth violation of the unilateral ceasefire which began on April 11.

“The buses were running, then they were shot at and they crashed”, he said. “The terrorists then sprayed them with gunfire and afterwards robbed the victims”.

The spokesman said the guerrillas belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most powerful rebel group fighting for an independent Tamil State in the north and east of the mainly Sinhalese island.

He said the passengers were returning home after the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year holidays. Some of the casualties were Tamils.

Among the dead were 66 servicemen of the police, army, navy and air force in civilians returning to duty after leave.

The government said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the most powerful guerrilla group was responsible for the massacre.

In a statement from the Indian city of Madras, the Tigers denied involvement and said the government charges “are unfounded and aimed at tarnishing our image”.

The Indian High Commission (Embassy) in Colombo said the perpetrators of the massacre were trying to obstruct the “tenuous yet sincere and sustained efforts’ being made to resolve the ethnic crisis peacefully.

The Commission in a statement yesterday said India unequivocally deplored and condemned those people. Whoever they might be. Who attacked unarmed citizens. Representatives of Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community urged the government yesterday to take steps to crush terrorism.

“We call upon the government to crush terrorism in this country forthwith and refrain from negotiating with the terrorists”, said a spokesman of the Federation of Sinhalese organizations, a nonpolitical body.

The government decided to give arms to villagers in the Kitulwatte and neighboring areas to protect themselves from the rebels, official sources said. They said army patrols in the area would be increased.

A 34hour curfew imposed in the eastern district of Trincomalee following the killings was lifted today. The killers were reported to have fled to Trincomalee and the curfew was to aid the hunt for them, officials said.

Article extracted from this publication >>  April 24, 1987