updated 4/28/2007 11:53:48 PM ET 2007-04-29T03:53:48

Tamil Tiger rebels bombed a fuel refinery and gasoline storage facility near the Sri Lankan capital early Sunday, plunging the city into darkness, rebels said. Hours later, the military pounded rebel positions in the north.

Rasiah Ilanthirayan, a rebel spokesman, said Tamil Tiger aircraft bombed two facilities that supply fuel to the Sri Lankan air force. “The two squadrons returned safely after the mission and the pilots have confirmed that they have hit the targets,” he said by phone from the Tamil Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka.

Later in the day, air force planes bombed the Tigers’ stronghold of Kilinochchi, targeting rebel aircraft, the Defense Ministry said. There were no immediate reports on damages.

The Sri Lankan military did not officially confirm the rebel bombings other than to say that the air defense system was activated and anti-aircraft guns were fired.

“We are doing some air missions, we are investigating,” Air Force spokesman Group Capt. Ajantha Silva said.

However, a military official who witnessed the rebel attack said he saw a low-flying plane drop two bombs on a gas storage facility in Kerawalapitiya, about six miles north of Colombo. The bombs started a fire, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The extent of damage was not immediately known.

The attack knocked out power to the entire capital, as well as the country’s only international airport and an adjoining air force base. Many people were awake watching Sri Lanka’s cricket team play Australia in the World Cup final on television.

Now an air war
An hour before the rebel attack, Sri Lankan air force planes bombed a location near Kilinochchi, Ilanthirayan said, adding that details on the damage were unavailable.

Last Tuesday, rebels used their new air wing to bomb military positions in the northern Jaffna peninsula, killing six soldiers. The planes did not reach their intended target — a military base that serves as the operational headquarters in the fight against the guerrillas.

A month earlier, the Tigers carried out their first-ever airstrike on an air force base near the capital, killing at least three airmen.

Sri Lanka’s separatist conflict flared in 1983 when separatist rebels started fighting for an independent homeland for the country’s 3.1 million ethnic minority Tamils, who complain of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

More than 69,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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