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Tamil Tiger Rebels Mount Second Air Strike in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger rebels have mounted an air strike against a key government military base, killing at least six soldiers. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, it is the second air strike by the rebels since they demonstrated their air capability last month.

Tamil Tiger rebels say two light aircraft bombed the Palaly military base in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The Sri Lankan military says ground forces fended off the planes with anti-aircraft fire.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan says the pre-dawn strikes, which targeted the armory and storage facilities at the base, were successful.

"Two aircraft participated in the sortie. The pilots confirm they hit their targets, soon after they hit the store, actually the armory, they could notice the flames for a while."

Defense officials say the air strike inflicted little damage because the guerrilla aircraft turned back under fire. They say several soldiers were killed when bombs dropped on military bunkers on the frontlines.

The Palaly base is the headquarters for military operations against the rebels in the north and is a major supply base.

The air strike is the second by the rebels since last month, when they bombed an air force base just outside the capital, Colombo. The rebels are believed to have assembled about five light aircraft in jungle bases after smuggling them in pieces into the country.

Rebel spokesman Ilanthirayan says they will increasingly use air strikes in the absence of peace talks.

"We are in a condition where the government is not willing to participate in a genuine process, our doors for peace are open," he said. "So we have no way other than engaging all our military wings to stop this military operations of the Sri Lankan forces."

Reports in Colombo say government troops could be preparing for a major assault against the rebels in the north. On Monday the government asked Norway's ambassador to cancel a trip to the rebels' northern stronghold, citing security concerns.

The head of the government Peace Secretariat in Colombo, Palitha Kohona however says the government remains committed to a negotiated settlement with the rebels, also known as the LTTE.

"If the LTTE were to provoke us, or take any measures to challenge us militarily, the government will be compelled to take necessary counter measures, and we are taking those counter measures," he said.

Hopes of ending Sri Lanka's quarter-century-old ethnic conflict rose in 2002 after Norway mediated a ceasefire between the two sides, but the truce is now in tatters. The rebel struggle is aimed at establishing a homeland in the north and east for the minority Tamil community.