LTTE attack on key military base thwarted: Sri Lanka (Third Lead)

September 9th, 2008 - 1:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Sep 9 (IANS) The Sri Lankan military Tuesday claimed that it had thwarted a pre-dawn assault by the Tamil Tigers on a army and air force joint base in the country’s north in which at least 10 rebels and 10 soldiers were killed and one rebel aircraft destroyed.In a statement, the defence ministry said the rebels had mounted a land attack backed by long-range artillery fire, targeting the joint headquarters of Sri Lanka’s military and air force in Vavuniya town, about 254 km north of here.

Amid the attack, two light-wing aircraft of the rebels entered the Vavuniya air space and dropped a few bombs on the Vavuniya airfield.

“The terrorists opened fire on the army camp in order to prevent counter attack and directed their ground assault at the airbase. However, soldiers moved forward amid heavy enemy fire and crushed the terrorists’ ground assault completely,” the defence ministry said.

“Ten bodies of slain LTTE cadres have been found so far. Ten soldiers laid down their lives and 15 others suffered injuries. One police constable was killed and eight others sustained injuries due to the enemy artillery fire,” it said, adding that five air force personnel were also injured.

It said that air force fighter jets had intercepted “two LTTE light aircraft fleeing after the failed mission at Vavuniya and shot down one of the aircraft in the Mullaitivu skies”.

Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janakka Nanayakkara told IANS that radars, most of which were 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.

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.

“The volley of artillery fire by both sides shook the entire town and the adjoining villages. We could hear the sounds of gunbattle since 3.00 a.m.,” a resident said.

This is the sixth LTTE air attack and the second raid within 15 days. But this is for the first time that the Sri Lankan Air Force was able to destroy the lower-flying aircraft.

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.

Aircraft of the rebels bombed a key naval base in the eastern port city of Trincomalee recently.

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 came 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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