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Tamil Tigers say they hit Sri Lanka base

Story Highlights

• Colombo International Airport closed for a few hours and was not damaged
• Planes dropped four bombs, returned intact, rebel spokesman says
• Rebels missed targets, Sri Lankan military source says
• Attack latest in violence which has escalated since 2002 cease-fire
From Iqbal Athas
CNN
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Tamil Tiger rebels used two light aircraft to bomb and strafe an air force base next to Colombo International Airport, killing two airmen and wounding 10 others, a spokesman for the group's political wing told CNN.

The rebels were targeting Russian-made MiG and Israeli-made Kfir aircraft, said spokesman S.P. Tamilsevlan in a statement issued from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka.

The planes dropped four bombs before returning to their bases intact, he said. (Watch how the attack inflicted casualties Video)

A Sri Lankan military source said they failed to hit their targets and instead hit a military hangar, setting it afire and slightly damaging two helicopters. The blaze was quickly extinguished.

The civilian side of the airport, which is separated from the air force base by a runway, did not sustain any damage. But authorities halted incoming and outgoing flights for several hours after the attack, which occurred at 12:45 a.m. (3:15 p.m. ET), the source said.

The airport, located 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of the capital, was reopened by dawn. During the 3 1/2 hours it was closed, at least three flights were rerouted to Chennai, instead.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

At least 65,000 people died before a 2002 cease-fire, which has been dissolved with the escalation in fighting between the military and Tamil Tigers in recent months. The government has vowed to dislodge the rebels from their eastern stronghold, including the district of Vakarai.

Colombo recently announced that government forces had rid the district of "rebel domination," saying only a few Tamil areas remained to be cleared.

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Medical personnel treat an air force trooper at a hospital near the island's only international airport.

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