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Page last updated at 17:41 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 18:41 UK

Lanka leader's helicopter shot at

Bell helicopter
Helicopters are routinely used by the Sri Lankan army

A helicopter that had just flown the Sri Lankan president to a ceremony and left him there was hit by gunfire soon after taking off again.

A statement from the army said the aircraft had to make an emergency landing, and was found to have a bullet-hole in one of its fuel tanks.

It is not clear who shot at the helicopter over the Ampara region, in the east of Sri Lanka.

The area is not close to territory held by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Police say that the incident happened shortly after President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been dropped off at a public rally to re-open a bridge that had been demolished by the 2004 tsunami.

A statement on the Sri Lankan army website said that the Bell 412 helicopter was engaged in "logistic work" when it was attacked, but managed to land safely thanks to a a "timely detection of the technical fault".

Independent state

Meanwhile the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has withdrawn from the Omanthai crossing point between government and Tamil Tiger lines in the north of the island after what it called an explosion.

The ICRC says that it will resume work as soon as security in the area is assured.

Air force fighter jets had carried out several bombardments in the Vanni area - which includes Omanthai - on Tuesday and local officials said one bomb fell within 500 metres of the crossing point.

The air force says there was some bombing in the area, but it was 5km (three miles) away from the crossing.

Correspondents say that traffic and passenger movements in the area will come to a halt without the presence of the ICRC.

Tamil Tiger rebels have fought for a generation for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the island's north and east.

About 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 1983.

Violence in the island increased after the government formally pulled out of a ceasefire agreement in January.




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