The Tamil Tiger rebel movement has introduced the world to its new air force in the most dramatic way possible - by bombing Sri Lanka's main airbase.

The Tamil Tiger pilots posed for photographs before carrying out their first attack
Following the midnight raid on Sunday night which killed three Sri Lankan air force personnel and caused the closure of Colombo's nearby international airport, the Tamil Tigers released the first photographs of the pilots and their new aircraft.

According to Sri Lankan air force sources, the Tamil Tiger's Zlin Z 143 aircraft is said to have a range of 630 nautical miles and is capable of carrying an ordinance load of 240 kg.

By comparison with the aircraft fielded by Sri Lanka's airforce, such as its Israeli-made Kfir fighter-bomber which can carry 6,000 kg of bombs, the Tamils' aircraft pose little threat, however their propaganda value outweighs their limited military use.

In addition, experts say that the payload of the Tamil aircraft could be doubled or more if only one pilot flies the aircraft as a "flying bomb" on a suicide mission.

Ceasefire

 Velupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive leader
of the Tamil Tigers, with the new pilots
The Tamil tigers had been planning an air wing for over a decade now, but most of these air assets have been built after the Norway-brokered ceasefire came into effect in 2002.

Sri Lankan officials say these aircraft were shipped in part by part over many months. Some of the parts are said to be shipped with the foreign aid that was sent to the rebel held territories after the December 26, 2005 Tsunami.

The Tigers Monday released pictures of their air wing for the first time. These pictures show pilots of the Tamil Eelam air force in the cockpit of the aircraft and the payload attached to the aircraft.

The pictures also feature Velupillai Prabhakaranthe, the reclusive leader of the Tamil Tigers, posing with pilots and technicians of the air wing. Faces of the pilots have been obscured in the pictures.

Revenge

The Tamil Tiger aircraft can carry
an estimated 240 kg of bombs
Meanwhile Thaya Master, a Tamil Tigers spokesman, told Al Jazeera that Sunday's air attack was carried out in revenge for Sri Lankan attacks on Tamil civlians.

"Our attack was a response to the killing of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan airforce Kfir jets," he said from the rebel headquarters of Killinochi.

"Our air assets are for the protection of the Tamil people and will not be used against any other country."

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland over over 20 years. More than 6,000 people are reported to have died in the conflict in the last six months alone.

Source: Agencies