Rebels had 'inside information' for raid on spy plane base

AFP AND AP , COLOMBO

Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 5

Tamil Tiger rebels had clear "inside information" ahead of a devastating attack that virtually wiped out the Sri Lankan government's fleet of spy planes, a report said yesterday.

In a report in the Sunday Times newspaper, defense analyst Iqbal Athas said up to 27 elite rebel fighters were able to stroll into the Anuradhapura base unchallenged before unleashing their assault.

Authorities had previously said the rebels had sneaked into the base by cutting through the barbed wire perimeter.

"Up to 27 Black Tiger suicide cadres were able to go unchecked right up to the aircraft hangar," the report said, adding that the guerrilla strike force had camped at a nearby abandoned house before entering the base.

"There is no doubt that the guerrillas have been receiving up-to-date intelligence on the lay out and goings on at the air base," the report said. "There was inside information."

The report said base security could have been compromised due to the use of casual laborers hired to carry out runway expansion work.

Athas said the government may have also played down the damage inflicted during last Monday's attack.

Officials have said eight aircraft, including a twin-turbo prop Beechcraft plane equipped with advanced surveillance equipment and Israeli-made drones, were destroyed at Anuradhapura.

But Athas said he compiled a list of 27 aircraft at the base, and added that only three of them had been spared.

Defense officials have said they believed 20 Tigers took part in the attack, three of whom were shot dead. The others blew themselves up using explosives strapped to their waists.

Fourteen military personnel killed and another 22 wounded in the attack.

Meanwhile, troops and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels clashed in in the Muhamalai area of Jaffna Peninsula yesterday, leaving four guerrillas dead, an official at the Defense Ministry information center said. The violence came a day after the military reported killing 11 guerrillas in four separate incidents in Vavuniya district, south of Muhamalai.