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Tamil rebels planes bomb key military base in Sri Lanka

Tamil rebels say two of their planes bombed a major government military base in northern Sri Lanka early on Tuesday, a month after their first-ever airstrike.

world Updated: Apr 24, 2007 10:40 IST

Tamil rebels said two of their planes bombed a major government military base in northern Sri Lanka early on Tuesday, a month after their first-ever airstrike, but the military denied the reports of the latest air attack.

The two planes from the Tamil Tiger rebels' newly formed air wing bombed the government's Palaly military base in northern Jaffna peninsula, rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said.

"Our planes have attacked the air facility and a storage in Palaly," he said by telephone from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi. "It may have caused damage to their command chain located within the base."

Sri Lanka's air force spokesman Group Capt. Ajantha Silva denied that rebel planes bombed Palaly.

"We are made to understand that they had attacked with artillery and we have not got any reports on casualties," he said. "There was nothing like an airstrike."

Palaly is a strategic military base with an air strip and functions as the headquarters for military operations against Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the north. It is also the supply base for tens of thousands of soldiers stationed in the ethnic Tamil-majority Jaffna peninsula.

On March 26, at least one rebel propeller plane bombed a Sri Lankan air force base outside the capital, Colombo, in the separatists' first airstrike since they started their campaign for a homeland for the country's Tamil minority in 1983. Three airmen were killed in that attack and 16 were wounded, but no aircraft on the ground were damaged.

On Monday, Sri Lankan officials ordered Norway's ambassador, who is trying to mediate a resumption of peace negotiations, to cancel a trip to the Tamil Tiger rebels' northern strongholds for security reasons.

The directive came amid rising fears that the government was preparing to launch a military offensive in the north after weeks of near-daily airstrikes and artillery attacks on positions held by the Tamil separatists.

Government air force bombed a rebel sea base and a moving column of guerrillas separately in the country's north and east on Monday, according to the military.

A cease-fire mediated by Norway in 2002 brought hopes of peace for a few years, but violence over the past 18 months has killed 4,000 people, taking the death toll from more than two decades of war past 69,000.

First Published: Apr 24, 2007 08:31 IST