Sri Lanka
Three killed in Colombo airbase air strike
Mar 26, 2007 - 12:10:27 PM

Colombo, March 26 - Tamil rebels for the first time used aircraft to attack a Sri Lankan Air Force base adjoining Colombo's international airport, killing three airmen and injuring 17 others, military officials said Monday.

The government confirmed that a light aircraft dropped three bombs onto the airbase at Katunayaka, 32 km north of the capital, but did not hit their target - fighter jets used to bomb rebel positions.

One of the bombs dropped did not explode, the military said.

Journalists have been denied access into the base to gain independent verification of the damage caused to the base, which is used to fly out Kfir and Mig-27 fighters to bomb rebel positions in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

The adjoining Bandaranaike International Airport, which was temporarily closed, resumed operations six hours after the attack, but most of the flights have been delayed, a spokesman for the airport said.

At least seven flights heading to Sri Lanka were redirected to other airports, but have now been permitted to fly into the country.

Additional troops have been moved into the area to carry out a search operation, after the attack, which took place at 12.45 a.m. - Monday while extra checks are being maintained on the passengers arriving for their departure.

Tamil rebels claimed that two aircraft had been used but the air force says that only one plane had been used for the attack. It is the first air attack by the rebels.

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

He said the targets for the air strike were hangers where Sri Lankan air force Kfir and MiG-27 jets were parked. He threatened that other Sri Lanka military installations will be targets for future attacks.

Security forces are on full alert as the rebels may conduct further attacks in the wake of what they called a 'humilating defeat' in recent military operations that recaptured some rebel-controlled areas in eastern Sri Lanka.

Tamil rebels attacked the same base and the international airport In July 2001 badly damaging at least six aircrafts.

Tamil rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - first indicated that they were in the possession of planes in 1998, but Monday is the first time they have used them in an attack against security forces.

The use of aircraft in the decades-old conflict will force Sri Lanka to provide additional security to military bases and government buildings, including parliament.

Rebels already have a unit known as the Sea Tigers that have been used in a series of deadly attacks against the navy.

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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