Vol. 5 Num 1046 Sat. May 12, 2007  

Lanka needs time to down flying Tigers

Sri Lanka needs time to neutralise the air strike capability of Tiger rebels, a state-run daily said yesterday as the international airport shut down at night fearing guerrilla air raids.

The Daily News said government forces were in a superior position in dealing with the Tamil Tigers on ground and at sea, but the flying Tigers had plunged the country into confusion.

"The Sri Lanka air force will take time to train their people to destroy the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) air capabilities and to improve themselves," the Daily News said in its weekly "Defence Column."

"The country is now in a confused situation," the state-run paper said.

The full-page report came as the island's only international airport, Bandaranaike International, began shutting for six hours at night following a spate of air raids by the guerrillas who criss-crossed commercial flight paths.

"The LTTE has been successful in their effort to drag the country into this unnecessary confusion due to their desperate attempts to put the government and the security forces in an inconvenient situation," the paper said.

The guerrillas have carried out three attacks against military and civilian installations and drew intense anti-aircraft fire from ground troops who failed to hit the flying rebels.

The Tigers are known to operate at least two Czech-built Zlin-143 light aircraft out of the rebel-held north of the island. The air force has bombed a clandestine air field of the guerrillas, but failed to stop the rebels.

The Daily News report said that the military did not have a "proper" air defence system to protect its key assets and economic installations.

The authorities had feared that the Tigers, who are fighting for an independent Tamil homeland, could use the cover of a civilian aircraft to enter the airport's air space and draw fire from ground troops.

Airlines fear they could get caught up in anti-aircraft fire directed against rebel aircraft.

Under the new security measures, the airport will remain shut for six hours at night from 10:00 pm (1730 GMT) indefinitely.

Travel agents said several major airlines had yet to finalise their new schedules, leaving many travellers scrambling for flights in and out of Colombo.