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At Kollupitiya junction in the heart of Colombo Friday afternoon, the streets filled with confetti and bursts of firecrackers. Sri Lankans were celebrating their government’s claim that troops had captured Kilinochi, the administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group that has waged a 25-year struggle for an independent Tamil homeland. After a triumphant speech by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a handful of men danced in the streets, as a drummer pounded out one of the island’s raucus baila beats.
The celebrations didn’t last long. Less than an hour after Rajapaksa’s late afternoon speech, a suicide bomber struck the air force headquarters in the city, killing three people, including two airmen and wounding at least 32. The LTTE have not officially claimed responsibility, but the message sent by the blast was unmistakable: even if the government is close to controlling all of Sri Lanka, the guerrilla war is far from finished. “They want to take the victory spirit out,” says Lakshman Hulugalle, a defense ministry spokesman and director general of the Media Center for National Security. “We can win the war, but this terror will continue for some time.”