COLOMBO (Reuters) - Tamil Tiger rebels called a defiant suicide air raid on the Sri Lankan capital a success on Saturday despite both planes missing their stated targets.
One small Tiger aircraft slammed into the main government tax office in central Colombo, killing at least two people and wounding 53, the military said.
The other was shot down and crashed in a marsh outside the international airport, the site of the Tiger air wing’s first strike in 2007. State TV showed triumphant soldiers around the bullet-riddled fuselage of the small plane and its dead pilot.
The attack was the latest proof of the Tigers’ ability to strike far from the war zone on the island where troops have encircled them in just 87 sq km (34 sq miles) of jungle and are within reach of ending a separatist war that began in 1983.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a news release the raid targeted Sri Lanka’s air force headquarters in Colombo and its airbase at the international airport, pro-rebel web site www.TamilNet.com reported.
TamilNet said the mission was flown by “Black Air Tigers,” or suicide pilots, and they had carried out successful air raids. The military said each plane was carrying more than 200 kg (441 lb) of explosives.
Both planes came close to their targets. The tax office is near air force headquarters and the crash site of the other plane was adjacent to the boundary of the airbase.
TamilNet showed a photo of the men it said were the pilots smiling with Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran standing with his arms around them.
The rebels’ air wing has flown nine previous sorties since debuting in 2007. The military said it shot down one plane in September but no wreckage was found.
The LTTE is on the verge of defeat with more than 50,000 soldiers surrounding them in the northern war zone where the military said heavy fighting was ongoing.
Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in the war zone, many of them forcibly kept there by the LTTE and others fearing heavy shelling, according to people who have escaped.
The U.N.’s top humanitarian official, Sir John Holmes, wrapped up a brief visit on Saturday to assess the situation at refugee camps containing more than 30,000 people.
“I fear the reality is still that significant numbers of people are being killed and injured every day in that pocket, even if it is hard to say how many of those are civilians and who is responsible,” Holmes told a press conference.
He said there were conversations underway about how “to ensure a peaceful and orderly end to this conflict, to avoid the risk of a final bloody battle which would be terrible from everybody’s point of view.” Holmes declined to elaborate.
Sri Lanka’s minister for human rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, ruled out any negotiations with the LTTE. He said the government was working on allowing greater freedom of movement for people in the refugee camps.
“We would like to improve, but once again practical difficulty is there because we know the LTTE has infiltrated with the large numbers who have come.
“So we need to have a screening process, we need to have a military camp inside,” he said.
Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Robert Woodward