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The BBC's Emma Simpson
"Despite the peace talks, the violence continues"
 real 56k

The BBC's Frances Harrison, in Colombo
"Eighteen people have died in this attack"
 real 56k

Eyewitness - British tourist Sean Hall
"It was pretty scary because there was actually live ammo being fired at us"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Britons stranded in Sri Lanka
Bandaranaike International Airport
Sri Lankan troops are guarding the airport
British holidaymakers are stranded in Sri Lanka after escaping a rebel attack on the country's only international airport.

The 47 Britons escaped injury in the pre-dawn strike by Tamil Tigers, but 18 people were killed in the incident and 11 civilian and military aircraft damaged.

Bandaranaike International Airport has been shut until further notice, with the tourists being looked after in hotels in the country's capital, Colombo.


After that all mayhem broke loose, two or three planes went up. It was just like a film

British tourist
Jimmy Bellieni
Sri Lanka has responded to the attack by launching retaliatory air strikes on Tamil Tiger positions in the north of the country.

The Britons had a terrifying escape after being caught up in the shelling and gunfire at the airport, 18 miles north of Colombo.

The tourists, who were waiting for connecting flights, had to run for their lives out of the terminal building as mortar flashes and tracer bullets lit up the runway.

One tourist, Sean Hill, from Welwyn Garden City, Herts, described the ordeal as blind panic, with some members of his group diving into a ditch to save themselves.

'Surreal'

Jimmy Bellieni, who was travelling with a party which included his children aged three and nine, was caught up in the violence as he waited for a flight to the UK after a double wedding.

He told BBC Breakfast the atmosphere in the airport before the attack had been edgy.

Mr Bellieni said: "It was almost surreal - such a reddy glow, we stayed there mesmerised.

"After that all mayhem broke loose, two or three planes went up. It was just like a film."

Running from the airport, his group ended up in a shack before breaking out through a window and ripping through a fence.

British tourists Matt and Rebecca Skeats
Stranded Britons are waiting for travel news
"We managed to find a ditch and crawled in at which point I got separated from my family."

After efforts to escape the ditch, Mr Bellieni and his group walked two miles before flagging down a taxi and heading for the embassy in Colombo.

British High Commissioner Linda Duffield said there had been contact with 80 British tourist plus other British nationals.

She said the airport remained closed although a curfew had been lifted and that most tourists were in hotels in Colombo, which was safe.

"I think the situation will soon be calm but obviously we are not advising people to travel to the airport," she said.

Tamil tactics

It was not clear when the airport will re-open but tourists are advised to keep in touch with their tour operators, airline or the high commission itself.

All flights from the airport have been suspended, while incoming flights have been diverted to the southern Indian city of Madras and the Maldives, as well as destinations in the Middle East.

Varada Kumar, executive secretary of London's Tamil Information Centre, told BBC News Online there had been no switch in Tamil Tiger tactics to targeting foreign tourists.


The operation was targeted to destroy the air fleet which often bombed the Tamil area

Varada Kumar
"The Tigers have never targeted foreigners and that has been confirmed by several other governments.

"The operation was targeted to destroy the air fleet which often bombed the Tamil area."

He maintained that civilian aircrafts were attacked because they had been used to transport military personnel.

Sri Lanka has launched air strikes on Tamil Tiger positions in retaliation.

No details of the strikes are available, but according to the BBC's Sri Lanka correspondent, Frances Harrison, they seems to be are mainly symbolic and not the start of a major offensive.

Britons anxious about relatives who may have been caught up in the airport raid can ring the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's consular protection unit on 0207 270 1500.

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See also:

24 Jul 01 | UK
'All hell broke loose'
24 Jul 01 | Scotland
Scots caught in Sri Lankan terror
24 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka hits back at rebels
24 Jul 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Sri Lanka attack
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