World News

Sri Lanka rebels launch air raid on oil targets

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Planes of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels dropped bombs on two oil facilities near the capital Colombo on Sunday, slightly damaging one, the air force said.

A Sri Lankan air force soldier stands guard at a road check point in Colombo, April 27, 2007. Sri Lankan authorities temporarily closed Colombo international airport and cut power to the city late on Thursday after reports of suspicious airplanes flying south along the coast, the military said. REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe

Residents said they heard explosions and firing as the military responded to the air raid. Hospital officials said two people who worked at a power station were being treated for gunfire wounds.

“Tamil Tiger aircraft came and dropped three bombs,” an air force spokesman said, adding one fell on the Kolonnawa oil facility 3 miles north of Colombo. Two others hit the Kerawalapitiya oil storage site, 10 miles north of the city.

No damage was done at Kolonnawa but the Kerawalapitiya facility suffered slight damage, the spokesman said.

A Tamil Tiger spokesman said two of their aircraft carried out the raids, hitting both targets before returning safely to base.

Residents said power to the city had been cut.

Sri Lanka’s military went on alert when radar detected suspect aircraft.

“I can hear gunfire. I can see flashes going up into the sky above the city,” a Reuters witness said. Residents said they had heard two explosions.

Some residents said they saw gunfire being directed at a plane flying overhead.

A Reuters correspondent at Colombo international airport said passengers had been told to get off their flights but were later told to re-embark.


The security alert occurred after a similar one late on Thursday when Sri Lankan authorities temporarily closed the international airport after reports suspicious planes were seen flying south along the coast.

That air raid scare occurred two days after the Tamil Tiger rebels’ newly unveiled air wing staged its second attack ever, dropping bombs on a military position in the north and killing six people.

The rebels’ first air strike was on the air force base next to Colombo airport, and it took the military by surprise.

Analysts believe the Tamil Tigers’ air force consists of just two to five light propeller planes assembled from pieces smuggled in over time.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as the rebels are officially known, want to create an independent state in the north and east of the island for ethnic minority Tamils.

Since 1983, the war in Sri Lanka has claimed some 68,000 lives, including more than 4,000 since late 2005. The intensified violence of the past 16 months has left a 2002 ceasefire in tatters.