Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Night flights to resume at Sri Lanka airport

Sri Lanka's only international airport is to resume around-the-clock operations after air raids by the Tamil Tiger rebels forced its closure at night, an official said on Tuesday.

The civil aviation authorities decided to resume night operations shortly following talks with the military and airport officials, a spokesperson for President Mahinda Rajapakse's office said.

"It was decided that we could get back to normal operations at the Bandaranaike International Airport in the next few days," the spokesperson said.

"Airlines will take a bit more time to adjust their flight schedules."

Military officials said the decision came after better radar was installed to track low-flying aircraft.
The airport shut for night flights on June 10 following at least four bombing sorties by low-flying light aircraft manned by Tamil Tigers.

The rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland for the tropical island's minority ethnic Tamils, have bombed military and economic targets near the airport and in the north of the island in 2007.

The partial closure was prompted by fears that the rebels could use civilian aircraft as cover to enter the airport's air space. Airlines worried that they could get caught up in anti-aircraft fire directed against rebel planes.

The airport shares a runway with the Sri Lankan air force, which has previously been targeted by the rebels, causing some flights to be diverted to the southern Indian city of Chennai.

Airlines use Sri Lanka as a transit point for travel between Europe and the Far East. Passengers from the Maldives, a key tourist destination, regularly fly via Colombo, which is regarded as a regional hub.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland since 1972. More than 60 000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Source: IOL

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