Sri Lanka
LTTE air attack at Colombo airport
Mar 26, 2007 - 8:11:42 AM

Colombo, March 26 - Tamil rebels for the first time used light aircraft to attack a Sri Lankan Air Force base adjoining Colombo's international airport, military officials said Monday. The rebel assault killed at least two airmen and wounded 17 others as the airport suspended operations temporarily.

Air Force spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha Silva, said that rebels are believed to have used two light aircraft to drop explosives in the early hours of Monday onto the base at Katunayaka, 23 kilometres north of the capital.

Bandaranaike International Airport has been temporarily closed, and all flights scheduled to land in Colombo have been redirected to other airports in India and Thailand, said SriLanka airlines communications manager Chandana Silva.

At least seven flights with points of origin including Paris, Dubai, Frankfurt and London have been redirected to nearby countries. The flight from Frankfurt was directed to Kochi in India.

Additional troops have been moved into the area to carry out a search operation, while all passengers heading to the airport from Colombo have been turned back.

Tamil rebels claimed responsibility for the attack.

Military spokesman Rasaiah Illanthiriyan of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - confirmed the attack, saying that the two aircraft took off from the rebel-controlled Wanni northern region and returned to the base after the attack.

He said the targets for the airstrike were hangers where Air Force Kfir and MiG-27 fast-attack aircraft were parked. He threatened that other Sri Lanka military installations will be targets for future attacks.

Residents in the area of the airport said that four loud explosions followed by gunfire were reported from the Air Force base, which lies 1,000 metres from the airport.

The damage caused within the base by the airstrike was immediately not known.

All Kfir fighter jets used to bomb suspected Tamil rebel targets operate from Katunayaka airbase.

In July 2001, the same base and the international airport were attacked by Tamil rebels.

Fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels has escalated in the last 15 months, with at least 4,000 deaths reported.

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