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Attack at main Sri Lanka airport

A military base adjoining Sri Lanka's only international airport has come under
attack from suspected Tamil Tiger rebels, government officials say.
Witnesses reported hearing a series of loud explosions followed by gunfire.

Passengers already on aircraft were disembarked and led to a shelter, while others
trying to reach the airport were turned away and approach roads closed.

The airport was attacked in 2001 by Tiger rebels who killed 18 people and
destroyed civilian and military jets.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says that people living near the airport were
woken at about 0045 on Monday (1915 GMT Sunday) by a series of loud explosions,
followed by gunfire.

A police officer, speaking to the Reuters news agency, said that there had been a
large explosion in a military area near the runway, where attack planes and
helicopter gunships belonging to the air force were parked.

Air assault claims

There are reports that the assault may have involved an aerial attack by suspected
Tamil Tiger rebels.

Neil Butler, a passenger at the airport, told the BBC News website that he was
inside the passenger terminal building and could hear the sound of machine guns
and mortars.

There is no word yet on casualties at the facility which is 30km (20 miles) from
Colombo airport is the country's only international passenger airport and it
adjoins a military base, which houses some of the aircraft used in recent air
strikes against Tiger rebel bases in the north of the country.

Sri Lanka has been sliding back into civil war for months, our correspondent says,
and although a ceasefire does exist it is only on paper and both sides have been
ignoring it for months.

Our correspondent says that as the fighting in the north has worsened many people
have been expecting the Tiger rebels to strike back in dramatic fashion in the
south of the country, and it now appears that such an attack may be under way.

Tourism threatened

The island is heavily reliant on the money which tourism brings in, so an assault
on the airport could be very bad news for Sri Lanka's economy.

In the 2001 attack on Colombo airport, which involved suicide bombers, half of the
country's national airline fleet was destroyed.

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting the armed forces of the
predominantly Sinhalese government for much of the past 20 years.

They want to establish an independent homeland in the north and east of the
About 64,000 people have been killed and one million displaced by the fighting.

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Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/03/25 21:24:37 GMT