Tamil separatist guerrillas killed 30 Buddhist monks and four laymen and wounded 17 other people Tuesday in an attack on a bus as tensions between Sri Lanka and India increased over plans for an Indian relief effort.
The government ordered the armed forces to defend the island's territorial waters in view of preparations in India to send a flotilla of small boats with relief supplies for Tamils to the war-torn Jaffna Peninsula today. "We have our territorial limits, and nobody can be allowed to trespass there. . . ," Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa told Parliament.
"President (Junius R.) Jayewardene has ordered the army, navy and air force to protect the island and its territorial waters," Premadasa added to a round of applause.
The crisis between Sri Lanka and its giant neighbor was sparked by a Sri Lankan army offensive to wrest the northeast corner of the Jaffna Peninsula from separatist Tamil rebels.
Indian leaders and rebel chiefs in Madras, capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where many Tamils have taken refuge, accused the armed forces of killing hundreds of Tamil civilians and said there was starvation among the peninsula's 800,000 inhabitants.
The bus attack, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali said, occurred in the eastern Ampara district as a group of 50 people, mostly Buddhist priests, traveled toward the regional capital of Kandy en route to Colombo. The attack occurred near Maha Oya.
A military spokesman said the attackers stopped the bus and took it into the jungle before opening fire on the passengers. Police said witnesses told them the guerrillas were clad in fatigues and armed with Soviet-made AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles.
Among the 30 Buddhist priests killed was the Rev. Hagoda Indrasara, head of one of Sri Lanka's many Buddhist sects. The four others killed were the driver, the bus ticket collector and two laymen helping the priests.
The security minister said 16 priests and one layman were critically wounded and were hospitalized. Witnesses said the attackers spoke in Tamil.
Blamed on Rebels
The government blamed the attack on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the strongest Tamil guerrilla group fighting for an independent state in northern Sri Lanka.
In New Delhi, a spokesman from the External Affairs Ministry appealed to Sri Lanka to reconsider its refusal to accept India's offer of relief supplies.
"India is surprised and deeply distressed by reports that Sri Lanka naval authorities have distributed leaflets to owners of fishing boats in the Rameswaram area threatening to shoot and sink any Indian boat that approaches Sri Lankan waters," he said.
Asked how India would respond if the boats were prevented from crossing the strait, the spokesman said, "I would still like to consider their not agreeing as speculative."
The supplies include 850 tons of rice, five tons of salt, 10 tons of milk, 50,000 matchboxes and 6,000 loaves of bread, he said.
The Indian Ocean nation off India's southeast coast was a British colony known as Ceylon.