The air wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) dropped bombs on a power station in Colombo and a military facility in Mannar late on Tuesday, triggering panic in the night and an island-wide blackout.
Electricity was switched off across Colombo and anti-aircraft guns opened fire at about 11.30 pm after a rebel aircraft was spotted approaching the city. First, Sri Lankan navy warships docking off Colombo opened fire and launched rockets at it. Soon, anti-aircraft guns deployed around important buildings in the city targeted the aircraft, breaking the silence of the night with the staccato sound of fire. High-powered search lights focused on the sky were switched on. Sri Lankan air force (SLAF) jets scrambled to intercept the intruding plane.
But the LTTE aircraft, possibly a fixed-wing, Czech-built, Z-143, whizzed past the fire power and dropped two bombs on the Kelanitissa power station, a fortified installation within Colombo surrounded by high walls. One bomb exploded triggering a fire in the station and fire fighting tenders were at work till early on Wednesday. Power supply to the city was not hampered, officials said.
Less than 30 minutes earlier, a Sri Lanka army installation in the Thalladi area of the troubled northwestern district of Mannar had come under a similar air attack. A Tiger aircraft dropped two bombs on the base, the main artillery launch-pad for the army, about 300 km from Colombo.
Like in Colombo, at Thalladi too, the aircraft escaped in spite of retaliatory fire from the ground.
Military spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, told HT that three soldiers suffered minor injuries in the attack. ``There was no damage to the buildings,'' Nanayakkara said.
The Brigadier added that he was still awaiting final reports about the extent of damage to the power station. "One bomb fell on a building and exploded, starting a fire. The second bomb did not explode,'' he said.
The pro-LTTE website, TamilNet, said SLAF bombers were searching for LTTE aircraft in Killinochchi till early Wednesday. "Latest reports from Vanni (where the LTTE is said to be currently cornered) said SLAF aircraft were flying over the suburbs of Mullaiththeevu and Puthukkudiyiruppu with para lights focused on the ground from 1:30 am on Wednesday,'' it said.
In Colombo, the sound of gunfire woke up thousands of tourists and professionals staying in five-star hotels on the sea front. An Indian advertising professional staying at Galle Face Hotel said: ``I opened the sea-facing window and saw streaks of fire criss-crossing the sky from all sides. The sound of gunfire was echoing from all sides. The area on the land-side was totally dark,'' he told HT.