Helicopter shot while Sri Lanka president visits former war zone

July 1, 2008 (AFP) – A Sri Lankan military helicopter was hit by small arms fire in eastern Sri Lanka Tuesday as President Mahinda Rajapakse visited the region, officials said.

The Bell helicopter made an emergency landing in the district of Ampara where the president was visiting to launch a 10-million dollar US-gifted bridge that was rebuilt following tsunami damage in December 2004, an official said.

“The president was not flying at the time and he returned safely to Colombo after completing his visit,” a senior government official said.

Military officials said there were no casualties and the attack was under investigation.

The area had been seized back from Tamil rebel control a year ago and local elections held in May. Government forces are locked in combat with Tamil Tiger rebels in the northern Sri Lanka where a daily death toll is reported. The rebels are fighting for a separate homeland for the island’s Tamil minority.