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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 October 2007, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
'Eight Lankan planes' destroyed
Sri Lankan airman keeps watch at the Anuradhapura military base
The attack has caused the government much embarrassment
The Sri Lankan prime minister has admitted that an attack on an air force base by Tamil rebels caused far more damage than previously acknowledged.

Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told parliament that eight aircraft, including a key spy plane, were destroyed in the attack on Monday.

Officials had been insisting that just two helicopters and a training plane were damaged in the attack.

More than 30 people died in the raid 210km (130 miles) north of Colombo.

Credibility 'damaged'

Correspondents say that the government's admission comes amid growing accusations from the opposition that officials lied about the scale of destruction resulting from the attack early on Monday morning at the air force base in Anuradhapura.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
The forces will not be demoralised by this incident
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake

Critics say that the incident is likely further to damage the government's credibility at a time when it comes under increasing pressure over allegations that it has consistently under-reported its casualty figures.

It is also accused of under-estimating the financial cost of recent fighting with the rebels in the north and east.

Mr Wickremanayake told parliament that three helicopters, four training planes and a surveillance plane were destroyed in the attack.

His statement tallies with earlier Tamil Tigers claims of the damage which were denied by the government. The prime minister did not tell parliament why the earlier figures were wrong.

But he denied the attack was a defeat for the military and called on all political parties to join together in fighting the rebels.

"The attack was an act of desperation by them to build their flagging morale and also to get the attention of the international community," he said.

"The forces will not be demoralised by this incident."

But opposition MPs described the attack a "major embarrassment" and called on the country's defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa - the civil servant brother of President Rajapaksa - to resign.

Map of Sri Lanka

"The government is not coming out with the truth to the people," opposition parliamentarian Lakshman Senewiratne said.

"They have never come out with the truth."

Mr Senewiratne says up to 18 planes were hit.

Military and government officials said after Monday's attack that only three aircraft were destroyed in the attack, along with a helicopter that crashed - killing four airmen - as it was sent to provide back-up.

Meanwhile the military says that 11 Tamil Tigers and one soldier have been killed in fighting on the front lines in the north.

The Tigers have complained that the armed forces abused their war dead by displaying the bodies of rebels killed in the raid on the Anuradhapura base.

Witnesses said the corpses, some in plastic bags, some naked, were taken to a mortuary in two open trailers pulled by tractors.

The convoy stopped for several minutes in a busy part of the town and a crowd gathered.

But the military spokesman Brig Nanayakkara denied any of the bodies were uncovered and claimed photographs of the incident had been doctored to tarnish the army's image.



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