| An oil storage facility burns in Kerawalapitiya, 10 km north of Colombo. (AP)
Colombo, April 29 (Reuters): Tamil Tiger rebel planes bombed two oil facilities near the Sri Lankan capital today, causing minor damage and tripping air defences that plunged the city into darkness, the air force said.
Colombo residents said they heard explosions and gunfire as the military responded to the air raid around 1.50 am (2020 GMT). Hospital officials said six people were admitted for injuries after the attacks, and two were in intensive care.
The early morning attack was only the third air strike ever by the LTTE, who are fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island.
“They dropped four bombs... there was no human damage,” a defence ministry spokesman said.
Two bombs landed in an area called Muthurajawela, north of the city, one damaging a water pipeline at a crude oil pumping station and the other striking a fire hut at a Shell gas facility, he said.
“There was an explosion and a fire. There has been some damage, power failure.... (But) there has been no damage to our storage tanks or pipeline,” said Rimoe Saldin, finance director at Shell Gas.
The fire was brought under control in about 45 minutes. Shell was still assessing the extent of the damage, he said.
A customer service representative at Shell Company of Sri Lanka, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, said the bomb struck at Shell terminals, which is part of the port.
Two other rebel bombs landed near the Kolonnawa oil refining facility 5 km north of Colombo, the military said.
A Tamil Tiger spokesman said two aircraft carried out the raids, hitting both targets before returning safely to base.
Residents said power to the city had been cut as 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’s international airport said passengers had been told to get off their flights but were later told to re-embark.
After the attack, air force jets struck back, bombing targets in the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi, the defence ministry said. Air force planes also hit Tiger targets about an hour before the air strike near Colombo, it said.
The security alert followed a similar one late on Thursday when Sri Lankan authorities temporarily closed the international airport after reports that suspicious planes were seen flying south along the coast.