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The BBC's Francis Harrison
"It puts an end to hopes for a negotiated end to this conflict"
 real 56k

D Sivaram, editor of Tamil Net
"The Tigers have shown the Sri Lankan government that they can strike anywhere"
 real 56k

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
looks at the history of conflicts between the Sri Lankan goverment and the Tamil Tigers
 real 56k

John Liddle, a British eyewitness
"We just ran like anything"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Sri Lanka hits back at rebels
All flights from the airport have been suspended
Sri Lanka has launched retaliatory airstrikes on Tamil Tiger positions in the north of the country, hours after a rebel attack crippled the island's only international airport and left 18 dead.

No details of the strikes are available, but the BBC Sri Lanka correspondent says it seems they are mainly symbolic, and not the start of a major offensive.

We all just ran like anything, got to a security fence, we managed to knock it down and carried on running. We spent about an hour in a ditch

Briton Alan Liddle
She says the military will be keen to show their air power despite the destruction of fighter jets and helicopters - their edge over the rebel side.

A pre-dawn rebel attack on Bandaranaike International Airport and nearby Katunayake military base left at least 18 dead and 11 military and passenger planes, including three of the national airline's Airbuses, destroyed.

Sri Lanka authorities said the dead included nine guerrillas involved in the attack and five military personnel. Three civilians are also reported to have died.

Our correspondent says the attack signalled that the Tamil Tigers had lost patience with the stalled peace process.

Airport officials stand alongside a dead guerrilla
Forty-seven British tourists had a terrifying escape after being caught up in the attack on the airport 30km (18 miles) north of the capital, Colombo.

The tourists, who had just landed at Bandaranaike, said they came under fire as they were waiting for connecting flights and were left to run for their lives out of the terminal building.

'Blind panic'

Sean Hill, from Welwyn Garden City, said the soldiers and airport staff were too busy saving themselves when the gunfire and explosions broke out.

Mr Hill said there was "blind panic" as they ran out of the terminal with bullets and mortars whizzing past.

Some of his party dived into a ditch to escape the fire.

He said it appeared the attackers were firing from inside the international terminal as well as the nearby military base.

Bitter history
1948: Ceylon becomes independent from Britain
1976: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formed
1983: Tamil race riots trigger civil war
1987: Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi sends Indian peacekeeping force. More than 1,000 die
1990: Indian troops depart
1996: Government retakes Jaffna stronghold in north

All flights from the airport have been suspended, while incoming flights have been diverted to the southern Indian city of Madras.

A curfew around the airport has been lifted and staff were allowed to return to their posts at 1200 GMT.

Flights are not expected to resume until Wednesday morning.

Questions are now being asked about how a key economic target such as the airport, with the threat to foreigners and the island's tourist industry, was open to such an attack by the rebels.

Military spokesman Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne told the BBC: "It has got to be viewed in a very serious manner. It is a very serious matter."

The government estimated the economic damage of the rebel attack to be $350m, but analysts believe it to be much more.

Fresh peace efforts meant that Sri Lankan hotels and the other parts of the industry were looking forward to the best summer of tourism since the beginning of the civil war in 1983, but that hope may now be dashed.

Riots anniversary

The rebels are fighting for a homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils, saying they face discrimination by the Sinhalese, who are 14 million of the country's 18.6 million people.

Troops scour the airport for rebels
Norwegian-brokered peace efforts have been stalled for several months, with the government refusing a Tiger demand to lift a ban on the group before any direct peace talks can start.

The attack coincides with the anniversary this week of anti-Tamil race riots in 1983 which triggered the civil war.

It is the first time the military base has been attacked, though the Tigers have targeted the international airport in the past.

In 1986, 16 people were killed in an explosion on a plane owned by Air Lanka, then the national carrie

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See also:

24 Jul 01 | UK
'All hell broke loose'
24 Jul 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Sri Lanka attack
01 Jul 01 | South Asia
Senior Tamil Tiger killed
05 Jun 01 | South Asia
Tamil Tiger ambush kills six
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