Paul Tighe, Bloomberg
Sydney: Sri Lanka’s government said a bombing raid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on an air force base near Colombo is evidence the rebels have an air unit that poses a threat to the country and neighbouring India.
“The LTTE is the only terrorist group in the world to have air capability,” Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, the minister for trade, commerce and highways, said at a news conference yesterday in Colombo, according to the Ministry of Defense Web site. India and other countries should be aware of the threat.
The LTTE said yesterday’s bombing was carried out by two light-wing aircraft that are part of its new air wing, TamilNet reported. The group didn’t say how many planes it has.
Sri Lanka’s peace process collapsed last year as fighting escalated in the north and east of the country and two rounds of talks failed in Geneva. The LTTE, which has an estimated 12,000 members, including a 4,000-strong naval force, has been fighting for two decades for a separate homeland in areas it controls of the South Asian island nation of 20 million people.
The raid shortly after midnight on the base at Katunayake, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the capital, killed three air force servicemen and wounded 16, the Defense Ministry said yesterday. Passenger terminals at the nearby Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo’s main airport, closed for several hours while security checks were carried out and some flights were diverted.
The aircraft dropped three bombs, two of which exploded, the ministry said. They didn’t damage any of the military aircraft, it said.
Sri Lanka’s government imposed an information blackout after the raid, TamilNet reported on its Web site. It cited unidentified airman as saying fires broke out in hangers and as much as 40% of base’s strike capability may have been put out of action.
Air force jets attacked areas near Mannar in northwestern Sri Lanka after yesterday’s raid, TamilNet reported.
The government will “proceed ahead with greater resolve” to eliminate terrorism from Sri Lanka and won’t be intimidated by the air raid, Fernandopulle said, according to the Defense Ministry’s statement.
The LTTE targeted a high-profile installation because it is demoralized after suffering recent defeats in the north and east, the ministry said yesterday.
The attack was aimed at destroying air force jets that have been inflicting civilian casualties and damaging civilian properties in operations in the east in recent months, the Tamil Tigers said, according to TamilNet.
The LTTE, classified as a terrorist organization by the US, the European Union and India, has accused the government of trying to impose a military solution. The army has captured 16 rebel bases in the northeast since January and began offensives recently near the eastern port of Batticaloa.
Almost 4,000 people have been killed in violence in the past 15 months, compared with 130 deaths related to the conflict in the three previous years, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, the Norwegian-led group that oversees a February 2002 cease-fire, said last month.