9 airmen, 20 rebels killed as LTTE storm airbase

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Colombo, Oct 22 (UNI) At least 9 airmen and 20 rebels were killed while four Lankan Air Force aircraft, destroyed in a pre-dawn combined land-air attack by the LTTE on a Sri Lankan Air Force base in the North-Central Buddist holy city of Anuradhapura district, defence sources here said.

The troops, engaged in clearing operation inside the Anuradhapura airbase, have found at least 20 bodies of the LTTE cadres so far.

Only five airmen including two officers were killed during the attack, Government Defence Spokesman and Minister of Foreign Employment, Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters here today.

''These were well trained and highly sophisticated (LTTE) cadres. We hope there will be more LTTE dead bodies recovered as the search operation progresses,'' he said, adding that the situation was now under control.

Four Lankan airmen were also killed when the Bell-212 helicopter which was coming from the Vavuniya Sri Lankan Air Force base to engage the LTTE cadres attacking the Air Force base crash-landed at Mihintale killing two pilots and two co-pilots on board and increasing the airmen killed in action to nine, added the government spokesman.

Meanwhile police has clamped down curfew in Anuradhapura and adjoining Mihintale towns to assist the troops engaged in post-dawn clearing operation.

Meanwhile, the LTTE in a statement claimed that the pre-dawn attack was carried out by a 21-member 'Black Tiger' suicide squad combining with their newly-acquired air unit at 3.20 am local time and destroyed eight planes and helicopters, including reconnaissance planes and training planes. The attack was followed by a raid by LTTEs air wing at 4.30 am on the same Air station, the LTTE Peace Secretariat said in a statement.

The government, however, denied the claims by the LTTE and maintained that only three helicopters including two Russian built MI-24 and a Chinese built K-8 trainer jet were damaged in the storming of the Air base.

Air Force spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha Silva said although the troops have identified the presence of two LTTE light wing aircraft, they were unable to take on them as the ground attack on the base was ongoing simultaneously, preventing the flights from taking off.

The latest round of escalations since the beginning of 2006 has put a serious question mark on the Norwegian brokered Cease Fire Agreement(CFA).

The Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) on February 22nd 2002 as a means of reaching a negotiated solution to the country's ethnic conflict.


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