8 killed in Tiger suicide attack on military base
Colombo (AsiaNews) – A suicide attack carried out today by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against the military camp of Chenkaladi in eastern Sri Lanka has killed eight people and wounded 10. Only yesterday, an air raid by the rebels – the first in the history of the island’s civil war – killed three in an air base near the international airport of Colombo. The entire country is on high alert, fearing serious repercussions on tourism and the economy in general after the latest attacks.
Government sources said today’s attack was carried out by a suicide bomber in a tractor loaded with explosives, which he sought to blow up in an army camp in Chenkaladi, Batticaloa district. Here, government forces have been conducting aggressive military operations for the past four months in a bid to wrest the area from rebel control. This morning, soldiers on guard saw the attacker and opened fire, causing the bombs on board the tractor to explode before the vehicle got past the entrance to the camp. Apart from the suicide bomber, four civilians and two soldiers were killed, while another body is yet to be identified.
A tough blow for the economy
The latest attacks of the LTTE have dealt a heavy blow to the national military system as well as to the national economy. According to official statements, yesterday’s bombings “only” destroyed two military helicopters but the Tigers claimed that they wiped out “40% of the strike capability” at the military base. Analysts have warned that the tourism industry already registered an 18% drop last month and fears that violence is spilling over the war zones (in the north and east) could make things worse. Only yesterday, the Hong Kong airline company Cathay Pacific suspended all flights to and from Colombo until further notice because of the insecurity. The Australian government has warned its citizens of the dangers of going to Sri Lanka. The impact of intensified military operations is already being felt in Sri Lanka, which has saw inflation soar above 20% last January. Meanwhile, this year, the government has increased the Defence budget by 45% to 1.3 billion dollars.
Two separate commissions – one by the aeronautic military and the other by the Criminal Investigation Department – are investigating yesterday’s attack. Meanwhile, the Sinhalese Minister for Infrastructure, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, has warned: “This is a dangerous situation not only for Sri Lanka but for the entire South Asian region. India should be careful because the LTTE could help other terrorist organizations.” Yesterday, the pro-Tiger Tamilnet website published photos of the air force that the rebels set up in 1998. However no details were provided about the number of aircraft at their disposal.
For more than 20 years, the Tigers have been fighting for independence in the north and east of the country. A ceasefire signed in 2002 has proved powerless to prevent a return to war.