Sri Lanka military says rebel air strip captured

September 30, 2008 (AFP) – Government troops have captured a runway operated by Tamil Tiger rebels inside the guerrillas’ mini-state in the north, Sri Lanka’s defence ministry said Tuesday. Tens of thousands have died on both sides of the conflict.

“Troops have captured the second LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) runway, which is 500 meters long and 50 meters wide in the Panikkankulam area,” the ministry said. It gave no further details.

The Tigers, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority since 1972, also maintain another more important airfield in a different area.

The LTTE are believed to have five Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft smuggled onto the island in pieces and re-assembled there.

The guerrillas last launched an air attack early in September, when they dropped bombs on a key military base in Vavuniya in the island’s north.

Sri Lanka later claimed it had shot down a guerrilla plane during the attack — a charge denied by the rebels.