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LTTE aircraft bomb Lanka base

Colombo, March 26
Using light aircraft, Tamil rebels today bombed a military base near the international airport here, killing three airmen and injuring 16, in their first aerial attack in nearly over two decades of ethnic conflict in the island nation.

Claiming the responsibility for the pre-dawn strike, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said it used two light aircraft to target the Katunayake military airbase, about 35 km north of Colombo and both planes returned to rebel-held territory "safely".

The guerrillas deployed aircraft for the first time in a combat mission to attack the military base, rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan said in a statement carried out by the pro-rebel Tamilnet web portal.

"This mission was undertaken to reduce the air capability of the Sri Lankan air force," he said, adding that the Tigers would resort to more such attacks against the military.

He said the attack "is also to safeguard our people from indiscriminate bombing by the (Sri Lanka air force)".

Soon after the bombing, the international airport was closed for nearly three hours as a safeguard.

The air force appointed a five-member team to probe "lapses" at the high-security Katunayake airbase, officials said.

The police has also launched an investigation into the incident, sources said.

"Ground-based soldiers had also picked up the aircraft on their radar and they established that the aircraft did not belong to the air force," they said.

After the bombings, the rebels flew back unchallenged either by interceptors or ground-based air defence systems, officials said.

The military admitted that the Tigers had used their aircraft for the first time to strike at targets.

"One of the LTTE aircraft had flown over the airbase and dropped some explosive items," air force spokesman Ajantha Silva said.

He said damage to the military facility was "minor." A hangar and two parked helicopters were damaged in the attack.

There were speculations that the planes could be microlight aircraft.

Silva said air defence systems were activated following the attack.

The government said Bandaranaike international airport, which shares a boundary with the airbase, was not affected by the attack.

A group of suicide bombers had infiltrated the base in July 2001 and destroyed a fleet of parked military aircraft, then crossed over to the adjoining international airport and destroyed six civilian jets parked there. PTI

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Flights land in Chennai
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

Chennai, March 26
Flights bound for the Sri Lankan capital were diverted in the early hours this morning and landed here as the Colombo international airport was temporarily shut down following an air raid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sources at the airport here said a direct Delhi-Colombo flight of the Sri Lankan was forced to land here as it could not land at Bandaranaike International Airport due to heavy bombing by the LTTE. The Chennai-Colombo flight of Air Sahara, which had taken off from here, too returned soon.

However, flight services were restored after the bombings ceased and the two flights took off again for Colombo when the airport was opened after two hours.

For the first time during the 20-year-old insurgency in the island nation, the LTTE carried out an early morning air strike on the Katunayake military air base, 35 km north of Colombo, with two light aircraft killing three airmen and wounded 16 men.

A LTTE spokesman said that it was for the first time that the aircraft was deployed to carry out an attack on the military base and the Tigers would launch more offensive against the Sri Lankan defence services.

He said:"This mission was undertaken to reduce the air capability of the Sri Lankan air force." The Sri Lankan military admitted that the Tigers had used their aircraft for the first time and bombed the airbase, damaging a hangar and two helicopters.

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