||Last Updated: Apr 30th, 2007 - 13:42:20
Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebel planes bombed two oil facilities near the capital on Sunday, causing minor damage and tripping air defenses that plunged the city into darkness, the air force said.
Colombo residents said they heard explosions and gunfire as the military responded to the air raid around 1:50 a.m. (2020 GMT). Hospital officials said six people were admitted for injuries after the attacks, and two were in intensive care.
The early morning attack was only the third air strike ever by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, who are fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island.
"They dropped four bombs ... there was no human damage," a defense ministry spokesman said.
Two bombs landed in an area called Muthurajawela, north of the city, one damaging a water pipeline at a crude oil pumping station and the other striking a fire hut at a Shell gas facility, he said.
"There was an explosion and a fire. There has been some damage, power failure ... (But) there has been no damage to our storage tanks or pipeline," said Rimoe Saldin, finance director at Shell Gas.
The fire was brought under control in about 45 minutes. Shell was still assessing the extent of the damage, he said.
A customer service representative at Shell Company of Sri Lanka, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, said the bomb struck at Shell terminals, which is part of the port.
Two other rebel bombs landed near the Kolonnawa oil refining facility 5 km (3 miles) north of Colombo, the military said.
A Tamil Tiger spokesman said two aircraft carried out the raids, hitting both targets before returning safely to base.
Residents said power to the city had been cut as Sri Lanka's military went on alert when radar detected suspect aircraft.
"I can hear gunfire. I can see flashes going up into the sky above the city," a Reuters witness said. Residents said they had heard two explosions.
Some residents said they saw gunfire being directed at a plane flying overhead.
A Reuters correspondent at Colombo international airport said passengers had been told to get off their flights but were later told to re-embark.
After the attack, air force jets struck back, bombing targets in the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi, the defense ministry said. Air force planes also hit Tiger targets about an hour before the air strike near Colombo, it said.
The security alert followed a similar one late on Thursday when Sri Lankan authorities temporarily closed the international airport after reports suspicious planes were seen flying south along the coast.
That air raid scare occurred two days after planes from the Tamil Tiger rebels' newly unveiled air wing dropped bombs on a military position in the north, killing six people.
The rebels' first air strike was on the air force base next to Colombo airport at the end of March, and it took the military by surprise.
Analysts believe the Tamil Tigers' air force consists of just two to five light propeller planes assembled from pieces smuggled into rebel-held territory over time.
Since 1983, the war in Sri Lanka has claimed some 68,000 lives, including more than 4,000 since late 2005.
The intensified violence of the past 16 months, including near daily land, sea and air clashes, has left a 2002 ceasefire in tatters.
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