Police in Sri Lanka's capital find explosives-packed jacket

Police in Sri Lanka's capital found an explosives-packed jacket they suspect was to be used in a Tamil Tiger rebel suicide attack, hours after a man claiming to be a Tiger sought protection at the U.S. Embassy, officials said Tuesday.

Acting on a tip-off, police found the jacket, laden with C4 explosive, detonators, switches and iron balls, late Monday near a main road in Colombo, said military spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanage.

"(The explosives) were all packed and made ready, without the batteries," Witharanage said.

Just hours before the discovery, a man claiming to be a Tamil Tiger had asked for protection at the U.S. Embassy a few hundred meters (yards) from where the jacket was found, said Palitha Siriwardena, the police officer leading investigations.

The man said he wanted to desert the Tigers and needed embassy protection because he feared reprisals, Siriwardena said. Embassy security officials handed the man over to the police, Siriwardena said. U.S Embassy official Philip Frayne confirmed that a man had sought protection, but he refused to say if he claimed to be a Tamil Tiger.

It was not immediately clear if there was a direct link between the two incidents, just days before Sri Lanka's Nov. 17 presidential election.

Siriwardena said officials are investigating whether the bomber had planned to assassinate Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, a main presidential candidate, whose official residence is opposite the U.S. Embassy. The country has a history of election-related violence, but this time the pre-poll period has been relatively peaceful.

A Tamil Tiger suicide attack at a 1994 campaign rally killed opposition presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake. In 1999, incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunga narrowly survived a similar attack, but lost an eye, while campaigning for elections. Witharanage said Tamil Tigers have in the past worn explosive-packed jackets for suicide attacks.

The Tigers started fighting in 1983 for a separate state for Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The conflict killed about 65,000 people before a Norway-brokered cease-fire with the government halted the fighting in 2002, reports the AP. I.L.

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