LTTE aircraft destroyed during raid on Sri Lankan air base (Second Lead)

September 9th, 2008 - 11:11 am ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Sep 9 (IANS) Two light-wing aircraft of the Tamil Tigers carried out a pre-dawn air raid Tuesday on the Sri Lankan Air Force base in the country’s north, but the air force retaliated and destroyed one of the planes, a defence official said. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) tried to bomb the air force in Vavuniya, 254 km north of Colombo, but for once the Sri Lankan military appeared to be ready.

“The LTTE has attempted an air raid on the Sri Lankan Air Force base in Vavuniya in the early hours of Tuesday. We intercepted and destroyed one LTTE aircraft over (the rebel-heartland of) Mullaitivu (in the north),” air force spokesman Group Captain Janakka Nanayakkara told IANS.

He said radars, most of which have been provided by India, “picked up two LTTE light aircraft while they were approaching the Vavuniya area around 4 a.m. Subsequently, fighter jets were launched from Katunayaka airbase in Colombo. They intercepted the rebel aircraft and destroyed one of them over Mullaitivu”.

Mullaitivu, a dense jungle area which is considered the base for LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, is located 352 km northeast of Colombo and lies nearly 100 km north of Vavuniya.

Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi are the only two districts in Sri Lanka that the LTTE totally controls.

The air force spokesman said that extent of damages caused due to the LTTE air raid was not immediately known.

There was no immediate word from the LTTE in this regard. The LTTE, which is campaigning for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s northeast, is believed to be in possession of an unknown number of Czech-built Zlin-Z-143 light-wing aircraft.

Residents in Vavuniya town said over telephone that they heard a barrage of artillery fire a few minutes before the suspected low-flying aircraft of the LTTE entered the district’s air space.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebels had also launched an “artillery attack on the forward defence localities of Vavuniya to support the attempted aerial mission”.

“The troops retaliated with heavy gun fire against the rebel targets. The LTTE aircraft had dropped a few bombs on the airfield before one of them was destroyed over Mullaitivu,” he said.

This is the sixth LTTE air attack since last year and the second in 15 days. But this is the first time the Sri Lankan Air Force has destroyed a Tiger plane.

On Aug 29 night, at least four Sri Lankan sailors were reportedly killed when a light-wing aircraft of the rebels bombed a key naval base in the eastern port city of Trincomalee.

The latest LTTE air offensive has come at a time when fierce fighting is raging in the northern Wanni region between the advancing government troops and the rebels.

The military believes that the LTTE has suffered heavy losses due to constant air raids on LTTE reserves in Kilinochchi in the past few days.

The military, which captured the northwestern district of Mannar last month, has declared that it is now operating just 12 km away from the rebel-heartland of Kilinochchi.

Tuesday’s incident also came exactly a day after Sri Lanka asked local and international aid workers to vacate Tamil Tiger-held territory at the earliest, indicating the start of a major push against the rebels in their final bastion in the north.

The minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights said the government had informed the aid agencies “that we are not in a position to guarantee their safety given the present situation”.

“We asked them to leave the Wanni (region) immediately with all their resources for their own safety. They wanted a week or two to comply,” he said.

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