Colombo, Oct. 22 (Reuters): Tamil Tigers’ air wing bombed a north Sri Lanka air force base before dawn today, while the rebels said suicide fighters mounted their biggest ground assault since the two-decade civil war began.
The rebel air strike in the north-central district of Anuradhapura comes months after the Tigers’ first-ever air attacks using light aircraft smuggled into the country in pieces, and as near-daily land, air and sea clashes occur.
Nine servicemen were killed inside the base and 20 were wounded in the attack, while four crew aboard a helicopter gunship, scrambled to search the area, were killed when it crash-landed several kilometres away, the military said.
Technical reasons, not rebel or friendly fire, led to the crash, the military added.
Twenty Tiger fighters were killed during a gunbattle at the base, the government said.
“We have found 20 bodies of LTTE cadres inside the base and we are doing a search operation to see if there are any more,” government defence spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said. “This will not deviate us from the fight against terrorism.”
An air force spokesman said two MI-24 helicopters and a training aircraft parked at the base were damaged in the attack. Residents in Anuradhapura, where police imposed a curfew, could still hear gunfire by early afternoon.
A search operation was under way around the air force base, one of Sri Lanka’s largest.
Air force fighter jets retaliated with bombing raids on a suspected rebel air strip at the town of Iranamadu, inside Tiger territory.