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Sri Lanka Bombs Rebel Bases After Airport Raid

July 25, 2001|From Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Air force planes bombed Tamil rebel camps in the north Tuesday, hours after guerrillas attacked Sri Lanka's main airport and an adjoining air base, closing the nation's only international air link.

Two Israeli-built Kfir jets and two MIG-27s pounded two rebel bases on the Jaffna Peninsula, Brig. Sanath Karunaratne, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said. The Jaffna area is a center of the 18-year separatist war.

"I am confirming that our pilots took the targets successfully," Karunaratne said.

Earlier, guerrillas staged a devastating attack on Sri Lanka's only international airport on the anniversary of 1983 riots seen as the start of the civil war. Twenty people died in the attack.

Using suicide bombs, mortars, guns and explosives, guerrillas destroyed eight military and five passenger aircraft at the airport in Colombo, the capital. National carrier Sri Lanka Airlines suffered $350 million in damage to five of its 12 aircraft, Aviation Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said. Two Airbus A340s and an A330 were destroyed, and the other two commercial planes were damaged.

"There were people running everywhere and ducking for cover under counters," said Australian businessman Noor Crookshanks. "There were several children . . . some wailing, and anxious parents were trying to rush them to safety."

Suitcases, clothing and shoes were scattered on the tarmac. A flight from the Maldives had just landed when the attackers hit at 3:30 a.m. A mortar hit a transit lounge, and airport buses were riddled with bullet holes.

Hundreds of passengers and workers were evacuated to nearby hotels, said officials at the airport's office in Colombo, 18 miles to the south.

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