COLOMBO, Sept 10: Sri Lankan jets blasted the Tamil Tigers’ intelligence headquarters on Wednesday, striking back the day after a rebel air and ground assault on a major military base killed at least 25 people, the military said.
It also said that soldiers killed 19 guerrillas from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in other skirmishes in the north of the Indian Ocean island nation on Tuesday, bringing the rebel death toll for the day to 30.
Two soldiers were killed and eight were wounded in Tuesday’s clashes, which took place away from the artillery, air and ground battle that erupted after the Tigers hit the military’s Vavuniya base south of the army’s frontline.
Responding on Wednesday to the strike, the air force said jets hit the LTTE’s intelligence command centre near Kilinochchi -- target of a relentless army advance against a group that is on US, UN, EU and Indian terrorism lists.
“A high-profile LTTE gathering was taking place at the time of the attack,” the military said in a statement.
The LTTE rejected the military’s statement, and accused the air force of hitting civilian homes during Wednesday’s raid.
“Sri Lanka’s air force bombed civilian settlements near Kilinochchi town centre, destroying 12 homes. No one was hurt because people sought safety in the bunkers,” the LTTE said on its official www.ltteps.org website.
The site showed photographs of what the guerrillas said were the houses hit by the bombing.
The air force dismissed the accusation.
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to establish a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority Tamils.
On Monday, the government ordered aid workers out of the battle zone, saying it could not guarantee their security and signalling it planned to give no quarter in its offensive.
The Tigers’ ramshackle air wing and a squad of “Black Tiger” suicide commandos carried out Tuesday’s coordinated assault on the Vavuniya base, which the military said killed a total of 25 people including 11 rebels.
The rebels said they destroyed a radar installation and wounded two Indian radar operators. The military denied this.
The LTTE also denied that the air force had for the first time shot down one of its light aircraft, part of a tiny and elusive fleet that has staged seven attacks since March 2007.