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ASIA: Tamil Tiger raid a desperate bid to delay defeat, govt

By Amal Jayasinghe
21 Feb 2009 2:09 PM

COLOMBO, Feb 21 AFP - A kamikaze-style attack by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers on the capital Colombo may have been a last ditch attempt by rebels to delay their defeat after 37 years of fighting, the government says.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) smashed a light aircraft into Colombo's main tax office late on Friday, killing two people and wounding 58, officials said. A second plane crashed near the city's international airport.

"This is a desperate attack," said Keheliya Rambukwella, the government's defence spokesman. "They may be trying to divert attention from their defeats in the north."

The Tigers' territory in the northeast of the island has been rapidly shrinking in the past two years as government forces, backed by aircraft, tanks and heavy weapons have carried out their biggest ever military onslaught.

"Very soon, this problem will be over," Rambukwella said, adding that security forces hoped to completely crush the Tigers "in a matter of days".

The rebels said two men from their elite Black Air Tiger suicide squad had piloted the two light aircraft in Friday's attack.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet.com said the targets were air force facilities in the heart of the capital as well as the main airbase adjoining the country's only international airport located about 35km north of Colombo.

Tamilnet said the attacks were "successful", but military officials said the guerrillas had clearly missed the intended targets because of intense anti-aircraft fire from ground forces.

The air force said anti-aircraft guns shot down one of the light aircraft that had flown over the tightly-guarded capital, while the remains of the second was found inside the Inland Revenue building, which caught fire.

"We have found a blown off arm of the pilot on an upper floor," an air force officer told reporters. He said a few pieces of the wreckage were found and they believed the aircraft was carrying at least two bombs.

The Tigers are believed to have had five Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft smuggled into the island in pieces and re-assembled. It is not known how many they have left after the government launched its all-out offensive.

The guerrillas have now lost over 98 per cent of the territory they once controlled and have been confined to an area of less than 100sq km along a coastal jungle stretch in the island's northeast.

And while Sri Lankan troops have said they have taken all the air strips used by the Tigers, Friday night's attack could have been launched from a stretch of paved road.

"They are rapidly losing ground and they would have had to destroy the planes anyway before the army stormed in," said a military field commander, who declined to be named.

The Tigers lost their main political capital earlier this year and their military headquarters fell three weeks later.

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