Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sri Lanka Says Rebel Air Unit `Trivial;' Denies Plane Shot Down

Sri Lanka dismissed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's new air wing as having only ``trivial tactical value,'' and denied rebel anti-aircraft units shot down a military plane in the north of the country.

``The LTTE is striving hard to rebuild its lost image through its `air raid novelty,''' the Defense Ministry said on its Web site yesterday. ``The LTTE, along with its pro-terror media network has been engaged in a major psychological operation to inflate the outfit's military power.''

The LTTE said yesterday it shot down an Air Force MIG-27 bomber over Ira'naimadu, TamilNet reported. The government said all military aircraft returned safely after carrying out their operations yesterday.

The Tamil Tigers have staged three air raids since March 26, two of them near the capital, Colombo, forcing the international airport to close briefly and causing power to be cut in the city. The existence of the unit of light aircraft threatens Sri Lanka, neighboring India and the region, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said last month.

Rebel aircraft two days ago dropped bombs on oil and gas plants at Kolonnawa and Muthurajawela near Colombo. The March 26 attack killed three air force personnel at the Katunayake base, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the capital. Bandaranaike international airport closed briefly last week in response to an alert of a possible rebel air attack on Katunayake. No raid occurred. The LTTE said they carried out an air raid April 24 on the Palalai military complex in the Jaffna peninsula.

Air Defense

The attacks show the national air defense system must be improved ``despite the insignificance of the terror airpower,'' the Defense Ministry said yesterday.

The Air Force bomber was hit yesterday while approaching an LTTE airfield near the rebel headquarters at Kilinochchi, TamilNet cited Irasiah Ilanthirayan, an LTTE spokesman, as saying. The air defense system was automatically activated when the bomber was detected, he said. An earlier report carried by TamilNet said a Kfir jet fighter failed to return to its base.

The LTTE is ``disseminating false propaganda around to show that they possess an air anti-defense capability, which in reality is otherwise,'' the Media Center for National Security said on its Web site.

The rebel leadership is trying to cover up for losses suffered by its ground forces in the east and the damage caused by air force raids on its camps, the center said.

Soldiers overran 16 rebel camps in the northeast in January and last month seized the eastern region around Batticaloa after taking control of the main road link for the first time in 14 years. The LTTE accused the government of trying to impose a military rather than a political solution to the conflict.

The Tamil Tigers, who have been fighting for two decades for a separate homeland in the north and east of the island, have an estimated 12,000 fighters and a 4,000-strong naval force, known as the Sea Tigers.

The LTTE, classified as a terrorist group by the U.S., European Union and India, says the Tamils, who make up less than a fifth of the population of 20 million people, are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese.