Sri Lankan air force bombs Tamil rebels' airstrip deep inside insurgents' territory
Thu July 27, 2006 03:45 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka's air force bombed an air strip that Tamil Tiger rebels were building deep inside their territory Thursday, the military said, as tensions rose over an alleged rebel blockade of a key source of water for government-held villages in the northeast.
The events are the latest to risk the return of a full-scale war between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government that was halted by a 2002 cease-fire, which now appears in tatters.
The government said it had information that the insurgents had cleared forests and had already built an unpaved air strip.
``This morning, the security forces conducted a limited air operation against this air facility. The operation was conducted to prevent the construction of this unauthorized air facility, which poses a grave security threat not only to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka but to the entire region,'' a government statement said.
The rebels are outlawed in neighboring India, United States, Canada and in the 25-member European Union.
The pro-rebel Web-site TamilNet reported the air attack, but made no mention of the air strip being bombed.
``Sri Lanka air force Kfir bombers Thursday morning dropped bombs from high altitude near a civilian settlement, Keppapulavu,'' TamilNet said without giving further details.
Thursday's strikes on the runway followed a government air assault the previous day.
On Wednesday, the military launched air strikes on a rebel-controlled area in the northeastern Trincomalee district where insurgents were blocking the flow of water from a plant there. The Tamil Tigers justified their action by saying the government had reneged on a promise to build a water tower for areas under rebel control.
The government said the rebels' water blockade had affected 15,000 families living in government-controlled villages, many of whom are without water to irrigate rice crops. Local television showed some of the villagers calling on the government to take punitive action against the Tigers.
The rebels said Wednesday's air strikes wounded two civilians, and that they were a violation of the country's cease-fire.
``Our position is very simple. The LTTE has no right to stop water flow,'' chief government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told The Associated Press.
``This blockade by the LTTE is against all norms, and a sovereign state like Sri Lanka is not going to tolerate it,'' Rambukwella said Thursday. ``If need arises, we will take suitable military action to see that the people in the area suffer no more.''
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for over two decades for a separate state in the northeast, which they consider to be the historical and cultural homeland of the ethnic Tamils. They already control swaths of the region, but are intent on capturing all of what they refer to as ``Tamil Eelam,'' or Tamil homeland.
About 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 cease-fire halted full scale hostilities. In recent months, however, an escalation of violence has threatened a return to all-out war.
More than 750 people _ half of them civilians _ have been killed since December.
Separately, two roadside bombs went off in northern Jaffna Peninsula on Thursday, killing a newspaper vendor and wounding a soldier and a civilian, Samarasinghe said.
Another civilian was killed in Point Pedro, which serves as a small harbor in Jaffna Peninsula, said an official at the Defense Ministry's Media Unit in Colombo. The victim was shot in the head.
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Published: Thu Jul 27 04:39:49 EDT 2006