Tiger planes bomb Sri Lanka airbase

Three killed as Tamil Tigers launch first air strike of long-running civil war.

    The air force base is next to the country's only international airport [Reuters]

    Speaking from the Tigers' northern base, he said the attack was aimed at halting what he called the "indiscriminate" aerial bombing of Tamil areas.
    "Other Sri Lanka military installations will also be targets of our future attacks," Ilanthiraiyan said.
    He added that the two aircraft used in Monday's raid had returned safely to base.
    Military officials described the aircraft used in the raid as light aircraft.
    Bandaranaike civilian airport next to the airbase was shut down after the attack with all incoming flights diverted to other airports in the region. Initial reports had said the airport itself was under attack.
    Witnesses who live nearby said they heard gunfire and several blasts before dawn on Monday.
    "One of the LTTE aircraft had flown over the airbase and dropped  some explosive items," Ajantha Silva, an airforce spokesman said, adding that damage to the military facility was "minor."
    The defence ministry said no fighter aircraft were damaged, but two bombs hit the airforce's aeronautical engineering department. Two parked helicopters were also damaged, military sources said.

    "Other Sri Lanka military installations will also be targets of our future attacks"

    Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan,
    LTTE spokesman

    The attack comes as fighting in the island's two-decade civil war continues to escalate. The conflict between Sri Lanka's government and the island nation's Tamil minority has killed around 68,000 people since 1983.
    The civilian airport was attacked by Tiger forces in July 2001, destroying six civilian jets after wrecking more than a dozen military aircraft at the adjoining airbase.
    The Tigers, who are battling for an independent state for minority Tamils in the island's north and east, have warned of a bloodbath.


    Flights suspended


    Meanwhile Reuters reports that Cathay Pacific Airways has suspended flights to and from the Sri Lankan capital after the attack.


    Asia's third-largest carrier said in a statement that it would resume its daily flights of Boeing 777-300 aircraft only after conducting a careful assessment of the situation.


    "We will just have to monitor the situation very closely," a company spokeswoman said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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