In 2005, Head of SLMM warned LTTE “air assets” threatened Sri Lanka’s domestic security and violated international law
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as Tamil Tigers, launched an aerial attack on the Air Force base in Katunayake, in the early hours of March 26, 2007. This attack came in the aftermath of major defeats suffered by Tamil Tigers in the east at the hands of the security forces and devastating losses within three weeks, of three ships that were sunk by the Sri Lanka Navy along with arms and ammunition and other military hardware they were carrying for the Tamil Tigers. Although the attack failed to achieve its objective of destroying aircraft at the base, three Air Force personnel died and 16 others suffered injuries.
Three bombs dropped by a light aircraft fell near the hangers at the Engineering section of the air base and two of them exploded, while the third failed to explode. The Air Force defence system ensured that the enemy planes posed no further threat to the air base.
Following the attack, the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), which is in the vicinity of the air base, was closed for approximately two hours, purely as a precautionary measure, and flights were diverted to Trivandrum, to Chennai and to Male. The Sri Lanka Tourist Board rose to the occasion to ensure that inbound and outbound tourists were provided maximum possible assistance, resulting in minimum inconvenience to them. The BIA is currently fully operational and all incoming and outgoing flights are on schedule.
In recent weeks, the Tamil Tigers suffered major defeats in the east as the security forces succeeded in rescuing civilians held hostage by them, while also giving them no option but to withdraw from camps in strategic locations.
It is most appropriate to note the warning of the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Mr. Hagrup Haukland, in May 2005, when he said that the Tamil Tiger “air assets” threatened Sri Lanka’s domestic security and violated international laws. “It is a tricky one and a serious violation. It threatens not only domestic security, but India has also expressed concern,” Mr. Haukland said at the time. He also said that he had seen the LTTE airstrip in Kilinochchi from a helicopter on March 4, 2004 – a day after the rebellion by the LTTE’s former eastern regional commander, V. Muralitharan also known as “Col. Karuna.” He added that the LTTE had “denied access” to the SLMM to inspect the airstrip, which he termed as “a ceasefire violation.”
When the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar paid his last visit to the US in June 2005, the LTTE’s construction of an air field and its acquisition of air capability were discussed as matters of serious concern with Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor, Dr. J.H. Crouch. Mr. Kadirgamar voiced concern that given the LTTE’s past record, there was a real possibility of aircrafts being used for suicide operations. The Minister said that this development was forcing Sri Lanka to strengthen its air defense capability. He explained how air capability in the hands of a terrorist organization could become a potential threat to civil aviation and to the commercial shipping activity and urged the international community to persuade the LTTE to dismantle its air capability in a verifiable manner.
In the meantime, the Government has said it is determined to face any challenge in its battle to eradicate the menace of terrorism and will, at all costs, safeguard unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
27 March 2007