Three soldiers guarding the security gate where the blast took place were killed along with five civilians nearby and the Tamil Tiger himself.

 

The LTTE has threatened further attacks by its air wing.

 

The air force responded late on Monday with a series of air strikes in the rebel-held north, which the Tigers said disrupted civilian settlements but killed no-one.

 

Bitter conflict

 

The civilian airport, next door to the air base 37km north of the capital, was not damaged in Monday's attack.

 

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However, the airport was closed for several hours, and Cathay Pacific suspended inbound and outbound flights.

 

The Tigers, who say they are fighting for an independent state for minority Tamils in the north and east of the country, have warned of a bloodbath as the military pushes on with a declared plan to destroy all their military assets and evict them from territory they control under the terms of a collapsed 2002 truce.

   

The civil war has killed around 68,000 people since 1983, around 4,000 of those in the past 15 months. Analysts expect the conflict to escalate further and see no clear winner.