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Tamil Tiger planes bomb army targets

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels launched separate air raids Tuesday with single-engine propeller-driven planes, setting a power station ablaze in the capital Colombo and hitting an army base, according to the military.

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Tamil Tiger rebels on Tuesday staged daring air strikes on a power plant in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and an army camp in the north, their first such attacks in six weeks, the defence ministry said.

The air raids by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which caused only minor damage and injured one soldier, came as security forces battle to capture the rebel political capital Kilinochchi in the north of the island.

Rebels first bombed the army facility in northwestern Mannar district, about 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Colombo, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told AFP.

"Two bombs were dropped by LTTE aircraft over a military camp in Thalladi," Nanayakkara said, adding that one soldier was injured in the attack.

Shortly after the strike, a rebel aircraft dropped one bomb on a major power station in Colombo, triggering a fire but no injuries, the military said.

"The blasts have caused minor damages to the premises," a military official said, without giving further details.

Officials from the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board said a cooler connected to the gas turbine power plant was burning, and the Colombo fire brigade was tackling the blaze.

Authorities in Colombo had detected a suspicious aircraft flying over the capital before the strike, prompting the military to switch off power across the capital and activate anti-aircraft defences, officials said.

Minutes after the attack, air force fighter jets conducted search missions over the rebel-controlled areas of Kilinochchi, Viswamadu and Iranamadu, the military said.

The Tamil Tigers last carried out an air and ground attack on a military camp in the northern town of Vavuniya in September, killing 11 soldiers. Ten Tiger suicide commandos also died in the attack.

The rebels are believed to operate five Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft smuggled onto the island in pieces and re-assembled. Satellite images have shown that they have more than one air strip inside areas they control.

The military said it had shot down one of the rebel planes after the Vavuniya attack, but the Tigers denied it.

Tuesday's strike in Colombo marked the second time the rebels have dropped bombs in the capital. In April 2007, the Tigers bombed oil installations outside the capital, causing some damage.

The Tiger air attacks came as government forces stepped up their own air strikes against the guerrillas inside their de facto mini-state in the north.

Last week, the Tigers carried out suicide attacks against merchant ships off the island's northern coast that were carrying supplies to the besieged Jaffna peninsula.

The military has claimed the upper hand in the latest ground battles. Defence ministry maps show troops are about 10 to 15 kilometres (six to 10 miles) southwest of Kilinochchi.

But monsoon rains and intense rebel resistance have slowed the military's ground offensive, according to military sources.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the LTTE launched a separatist campaign in 1972 to carve out a homeland for minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese island's north and east.
   

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