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The BBC's Jill Mcgivering
"Many holidaymakers are too frightened to go back home"
 real 56k

Renton de Alwis, Sri Lanka Tourist Board
"We are very confident that we will be able to make a fast recovery very soon"
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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
Sri Lanka's airport reopens
SriLanka Airlines airbus
Three airbuses were destroyed in the attack
Sri Lanka's only international airport has re-opened a day after it was attacked by Tamil Tiger rebels.

Officials say flights have resumed from the capital, Colombo, to take away the thousands of tourists who were stranded there.

Eighteen people were killed and many injured in the attack, which is threatening to severely damage the country's popularity as a tourism destination.

Six passenger planes - half the Sri Lankan Airways fleet - and eight military planes were set on fire by rebel mortars and suicide bombers in the Tuesday morning assault.

The airline lost three Airbus aircraft and had three more grounded, causing estimated damage of more than $350m - roughly equal to what tourism officials say the country earned from tourists last year.

The country's tourist board asked hotels in the capital to give free accommodation to tourists who were caught up in the fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers.

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 rebel stronghold Jaffna

The BBC Colombo correspondent, Frances Harrison, says that, in terms of economic cost, this is the worst attack inflicted by the rebels in almost two decades of civil war.

The country had seen record numbers of visitors last month. Fresh peace efforts meant that hotels and other sectors of the tourist industry had been looking forward to their most profitable summer since the beginning of the civil war in 1983.

However, images of shaken tourists describing how they fled the shooting at the airport are likely to dampen consumer confidence in the island, which receives about 120,000 visitors a year from Britain and Germany alone.

The US State Department has advised its citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the country, while the UK Foreign Office urged Britons to postpone trips until further notice.

Airport officials with body of guerrilla
Most of the dead were guerrillas
There will also be embarrassing questions for the defence establishment about how a handful of rebels managed to penetrate one of the most heavily fortified bases in the country.

One newspaper called it a disgrace for the military and a victory for terrorism.

Even the state-run newspaper admitted there had been very serious security lapses.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has ordered an inquiry into what went wrong, but there are now increasing calls for her to co-operate with the main opposition party and forge a consensus approach towards solving the country's ethnic conflict.

The rebels are fighting for a homeland for Tamils living in the north and east of the country, saying they face discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

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 starting any direct peace talks.

Security measures at the airport
Troops guarding the airport are on high alert
The attack coincided with the anniversary 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.

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

The Sri Lankan air force responded by launching retaliatory strikes on Tamil Tiger positions in the north of the country.

No details of the strikes are available, but it seems they were mainly symbolic rather than the start of a major offensive.

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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
25 Jul 01 | Business
Sri Lanka's economy reels after raid
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