Sonic booms cause panic in Sri Lanka’s capital


-File photo

Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo was thrown into panic on Friday after sonic booms caused by jet fighters were mistaken for bomb blasts off the coast, the military and police said.
Defence Ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said Israeli-built Kfir jets were on a training mission and may have broken the sound barrier causing people on the ground to hear loud blasts.
“The jets were on a training mission going from the north of Colombo to the south,” Samarasinghe said, adding that booms had been heard in several places.
“In the wake of threats posed by Tamil Tiger terrorists, many civilians in the coastal areas panicked and gathered on coastal areas,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
With radio stations broadcasting reports of explosions, mobile phone networks were jammed with people calling each other in a frenzy.
Stations reported hearing explosions in the northern part of the city where police and security forces had stepped up checks and road blocks amid fears that the Tigers could resort to attacks amid rising tensions.
Police chief Chandra Fernando said earlier that the authorities had suspected that a sea mine abandoned by Tamil Tiger rebels may have exploded, but helicopters sent to the area saw no sign of debris.
A blast was heard along a 15-kilometre (nine-mile) stretch from Colombo to Pamunugamuwa where police on Saturday arrested five Tigers in diving gear who were laying sea mines, Fernando said.
Seven of eight mines placed by the Tigers have been accounted for, and police Friday launched another search for the missing bomb which is feared to be drifting in shallow waters after authorities determined it had not exploded.
There is no commercial shipping in the area.
Friday’s jolt to the already jittery capital came as escalating violence continues to severely strain a four-year-old truce between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The latest setback to Sri Lanka’s faltering cease-fire came earlier in the week when the LTTE said truce monitors from European Union member states Finland, Sweden and Denmark must quit — a move that would significantly weaken efforts to keep the peace on the embattled island.
Sri Lanka’s top defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella Friday called the Tigers’ demand “unethical” and accused them of operating in bad faith by demanding the removal of EU truce monitors.
“If you come to a negotiation, you put your cards on the table, you have your arguments, your counter-arguments, and you come to an agreement,” he told reporters.
“If halfway through you try to change it, then the government might also try to change from time to time. … You cannot behave that way,” he said.
More than 60,000 people have died in the Tamil separatist conflict since 1972.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2006